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"[Stanley Kauffmann's] sense of 
values stems from his panoramic 
awareness of the modern scene. 
We do more than go to the movies 
with him; he makes us think about 
the myths and realities of a cul 
ture." Stanley Kunitz 

"...[Kauffmann] gives us... a sub 
stantial aesthetic attitude, a new 
way to care and think about films/' 
Jerzy Kosinski 

"This new collection confirms his 
place among the most sensitive 
and humane men writing about 
the American cultural scene at the 
present time/' Robert Brustein 



FIGURES OF IJ 



One of America's lead ng c r "ii:s 
assembles here a nunrn' erf h"s 
most important fa m '\ e/ 7 > :t t- 
ering the period 191*/'- in/l. 
These were years of xp!osj^e 
growth of interest in film and of 
many excitir ? new developments 
and newface* iithewrildo^film. It 
was the peri:d of The Graduate, 
of Z and La Lh/nc/so Bor.il: and 
C/yde, Easy ?/der, Catch-22, i : 5l- 
lini Satyricc.i, Weekend. Zabr/sf e 
Point, Midn ght Cowboy, and neve. 

(continued cr oac/c f/a?J 

0371 



NOV29 1975 



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iV'''.: .jyis 10- 

DEC 1? 1976 
MAR 3 1977 




MW FES j S 1381 



778 K88f 
Kauffmann 
Figures of light 



71 -OU878 




DATE. DUE 



FIGURES OF LIGHT 



By Stanley Kauffmann 



Novels 

The Hidden Hero 
The Tightrope 
A Change of Climate 
Man of the World 

Children's Play 
Bobino 

Criticism 

A World on Film 
Figures of Light 



Stanley Kauffmann 

FIGURES OF LIGHT 

film criticism and comment 




HARPER & ROW, PUBLISHERS 

NEW YORK, EVANSTON, SAN FRANCISCO, LONDON 1817 



Grateful acknowledgment is given to the following: 

Channel 13/WNDT for "Falstaff" from the program "The Art of Film" pro 
duced on April 5, 1967. 

Salamagundi for "A Year with Blow-Up: Some Notes" appearing in the Spring- 
Summer 1968 issue. 

The New York Times for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Copyright 1966 
by The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission. 
Liveright Publishing Corp. for the lines on page 226 from "Chaplinesque" from 
The Complete Poems and Selected Letters and Prose of Hart Crane. Copyright 
1933, 1958, 1966 by Liveright Publishing Corp., New York. Reprinted by 
permission. 

FIGURES OF LIGHT. Copyright 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 by Stanley Kauff- 
mann. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of 
this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written 
permission except hi the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles 
and reviews. For information address Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 49 East 
33rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10016. Published simultaneously in Canada by 
Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, Toronto. 

FIRST EDITION 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: JO- 13 8742 



to Laura 



7104878 

KANSAS CITY (MO.) PUBLIC L1ERARI 



contents 



PREFACE 



XU1 



FILMS REVIEWED (AN ALPHABETICAL LISTING): 

Accattone 58 

AdalenSl 207 

Alice's Restaurant 198 

The Ballad of Cable Hogue 266 

The Bed Sitting Room 204 

Belle de Jour 77 



Vll 



Viii CONTENTS 



Beyond the Law 115 

Bezhin Meadow 142 

The Birthday Party 128 

Blow-Up 5 

Bonnie and Clyde 18 

Brotherly Love 256 

Bullitt 118 

Les Carabiniers 81 

Catch-22 271 

The Charge of the Light Brigade 106 

China Is Near 50 

La Chinoise 66 

The Circus 223 

Closely Watched Trains 29 

Cool Hand Luke 28 

Duet for Cannibals 208 

, Easy Rider 185 

Elvira Madigan 34 

A Face of War 79 

Faces 120 

Falstaff 4 

Fellini Satyricon 250 

Fist in His Pocket 86 

For Love of Ivy 93 

Funny Girl 114 

Getting Straight 261 

Goodbye, Columbus 154 

The Graduate 36 

Greetings 133 

Here's Your Life 130 



CONTENTS iX 

Hour of the Wolf 62 

How I Won the War 29 

Hunger 100 

I Am Curious (Yellow) 147 

If ... 134 

The Immortal Story 146 

Inadmissible Evidence 9 1 

In the Year of the Pig 218 

Intimate Lighting 222 

The Joke 260 

Last Summer 177 

Lola Montes 160 

Love Affair 52 

The Loves of Isadora 164 

A Married Couple 226 

M*A*S*H 229 

Medium Cool 192 

Midnight Cowboy 170 

The Milky Way 231 

Mississippi Mermaid 255 

The Odd Couple 75 
Passages from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake 25 

The Passion of Anna 267 

Patton 235 

Persona 13 

Petulia 87 

Pierrot leFou 138 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 140 

Putney Swope 189 

Red Beard 132 



CON-TENTS 



The Red and the White 158 

Romeo and Juliet 112 

Rosemary's Baby 83 

The Round Up 168 

Salesman 150 

See You at Mao 264 

Shame 125 

Simon of the Desert 144 

Spirits of the Dead 196 

Staircase 190 

Stolen Kisses 137 

The Stranger 46 

Sympathy for the Devil 264 

Targets 96 

TeU Me Lies 55 

Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here 209 

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? 219 

True Grit 183 

Two or Three Things I Know about Her 258 

200 1 : A Space Odyssey 70 

Ulysses 25 

Up Tight 122 

Warrendale 102 

Weekend 109 

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1 

The Wild Bunch 179 

Wild 90 49 

Winning 174 

Winter Wind 246 

Yellow Submarine 117 



CON TENT S Xi 

Z 215 

Zabriskie Point 23 8 

A RECENT CHANGE 201 

HOW YOUNG YOU LOOK 276 

THE NECESSARY FILM 281 

INDEX 285 



preface 



At the moment I'm still alive. I mention the fact a bit defiantly be 
cause an English reviewer of my first collection of film criticism 
expressed gratitude for James Agee's and Robert Warshow's posthu 
mous collections but indicated that it was remiss of me to publish 
a collection while I was still alive, instead of writing a "real" book. 
And here I am offering a second collection without having had the 
decency to expke. 

Real or otherwise, this book was written, week by week: not as 
serial installments of one work, certainly, yet it is a (selective) record 
of a continuing relation with an art. 

The first volume of that record, A World on Film, consisted mainly 
of my criticism in The New Republic from early 1958 to November 
1965. In 1966 I spent eight months as drama critic of The New 

xiii 



XIV PREFACE 

York Times, where I also wrote a few film reviews, such as the first 
piece in this book. Late in 1966 I returned to The New Republic as 
weekly book critic, during which time I wrote film criticism for the 
New American Review, and some of that, too, is included here. In 
late 1967 I resumed as film critic of The New Republic; most of the 
following material comes from that source. Other sources are speci 
fied, except for the last selection, which is drawn from an article 
written for Quality: Its Image in the Arts, edited by Louis Kronen- 
berger and published by Atheneum. As in my first book, I have oc 
casionally added postscripts. 

But the arrangement of this book differs from the earlier one, and 
that difference is pertinent to the idea of a continuing record. The 
reviews in A World on Film were arranged by country of origin and 
by topic because, for me, the dominant impression of that period 
was of simultaneity of response around the film-making world. In the 
years since then, the dominant impression has become one of the 
speed of change in film-making styles and materials. Any arrange 
ment of this book other than chronological seemed to me to fight 
that dominant idea; so these pieces are presented in the order in 
which they were written, which is almost always the order in which 
they were published. 

One point is the same as in the first book, and I'd like simply to 
quote from that preface. "I cannot imagine a more stimulating life 
for a critic of new works than to be able to address regularly a group 
of the best readers he can think of and to be given a free hand in 
doing it." Gratitude, again, to the readers of The New Republic and 
to its editor, Gilbert Harrison. 

S.K. 
August, 1970 



FIGURES OF LIGHT 



Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

(The New York Times, June 24, 1966) 

EDWARD Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the best Ameri 
can play of the last decade and a violently candid one, has been 
brought to the screen without pussyfooting. This in itself makes it a 
notable event in our film history. About the film as such, there is 
more to be said. 

First things first. The most pressing question since we already 
know a great deal about the play and the two stars is the direction. 
Mike Nichols, after a brilliant and too brief career as a satirist, proved 
to be a brilliant theatrical director of comedy. This is his debut as a 
film director, and it is a successful Houdini feat. Houdini, you re 
member, was the magician who was chained hand and foot, bound in 
a sack, dumped in a river, and then appeared some minutes later on 
the surface. You do not expect Olympic swimming form in a Houdini; 
the triumph is just to come out alive. 

Which Nichols has done. He was given two world-shaking stars, the 
play of the decade and the auspices of a large, looming studio. What 
more inhibiting conditions could be imagined for a first film, if the 
director is a man of talent? But Nichols has at least survived. The 
form is not Olympic, but he lives. 

Any transference of a good play to film is a battle. (That is why 
the best film directors rarely deal with good plays.) The better the 
play, the harder it struggles against leaving its natural habitat, and 
Albee's extraordinary comedy-drama has put up a stiff fight. Ernest 
Lehman, the screen adapter, has broken the play out of its one living- 
room setting into various rooms in the house and onto the lawn, which 
the play accepts well enough. He has also placed one scene in a road- 
house, which is a patently forced move for visual variety. These 
changes and some minor cuts, including a little inconsequential blue- 
penciling, are about the sum of his efforts. The real job of "filmizing" 
was left to the director. 

With no possible chance to cut loose cinematically (as, for ex 
ample, Richard Lester did in his film of the stage comedy The Knack) , 
Nichols has made the most of two elements that were left to him 
intimacy and acting. He has gone to school to several film masters 
(Kurosawa among them, I would guess) in the skills of keeping the 
camera close, indecently prying; giving us a sense of his characters' 



2 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

very breath, bad breath, held breath; tracking a face in the rhyt&m 
of the scene as the actor moves,, to take us to other faces; punctuat 
ing with sudden withdrawals to give us a brief, almost dispassionate 
respite; then? plunging us in close again to one or two faces, for lots of 
pores and bile. 

There is not much that is original in Nichols* camerawork, no 
sense of the personality that we got in his stage direction. In fact, the 
direction is weakest when he gets a bit arty: electric signs flashing 
behind heads or tilted shots from below to show passion and abandon 
(both of them hallmarks of the college cinema virtuoso). But he 
has minimized the "stage" feeling, and he has given the film an in 
sistent presence, good phrasing, and a nervous drive. It sags toward 
the end, but this is because the third act of the play sags. 

As for the acting, Nichols had Richard Burton as George. To 
refresh us aB, George is a fortyish history professor, married to 
Martha, the daughter of the president of a New England college. They 
return home from a party at 1:30 A.M., slightly sozzled, drenched in 
their twenty-year-old marital love-hate ambivalence. A young faculty 
couple come over for drinks, and the party winds viciously on until 
dawn. In the course of it, Martha sleeps with the young man as an 
act of vengeance on George. The play ends with George's retribu 
tion the destruction of their myth about a son they never had. 

Burton was part of the star package with which this film began, 
but a big but Burton is also an actor. He has become a kind of 
specialist in sensitive self-disgust, as witness the latter scenes of 
Cleopatra and all of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, and he 
does it well. He is not in his person the George we might imagine, 
but he is utterly convincing as a man with a great lake of nausea in 
him, on which he sails with regret and compulsive amusement. 

On past evidence, Nichols had relatively little work to do with 
Burton. On past evidence, he had a good deal to do with Elizabeth 
Taylor, playing Martha. She has shown previously, in some roles, 
that she could respond to the right director and could at least flagel 
late herself into an emotional state (as in Suddenly, Last Summer). 
Here, with a director who knows how to get an actor's confidence 
and knows what to do with it after he gets it^ she does the best work 
of her career, sustained arid urgent. 

Of course, she has an initial advantage. Her acceptance of graj 



WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? 3 

hair and her use of profanity make her seem to be acting even (figura 
tively) before she begins. ("Gee, she let them show her looking old! 
Wow, she just said 'Son of a bitch'! A star!") It is not the first time 
an American star has gotten mfleage out of that sort of daring. Miss 
Taylor does not have qualities that, for instance, Uta Hagen had in 
the Broadway version, no suggestion of endlessly coiled involutions. 
Her venom is nearer the surface. But, under Nichols' hand, she 
gets vocal variety, never relapses out of the role, and she charges 
it with the utmost of her powers which is an achievement for any 
actress, great or little. 

As the younger man, George Segal gives his usual good terrier per 
formance, lithe and snapping, with nice bafHement at the complexities 
of what he thought was simply a bad marriage. As his bland wife, 
Sandy Dennis is credibly bland. 

Albee's play looks both better and a little worse under the camera's 
magnification. A chief virtue for me is that it is not an onion skin 
play it does not merely strip o3 layers, beginning at the surface 
with trifles and digging deeper as it proceeds. Of course, we learn 
more about the characters as we go, and almost all of it is fascinating; 
but, like its giant forebear, Strindberg's Dance of Death, the play 
begins in hell, and all the revelations and reactions take place within 
that landscape. 

What does not wear well in the generally superb dialogue is the 
heavy lacing of vaudeville cross-talk, particularly facile non sequi- 
turs. (Also, in Lehman's version, so much shouting and slamming 
takes place on the front lawn at four in the morning that we keep 
wondering why a neighbor doesn't wake up and complain.) 

More serious is the heightened impression that the myth of the 
son is irrelevant to the play. It seems a device that the author tacked 
on to conclude matters as the slash and counterslash grew tired; 
a device that he then went back and planted earlier. Else why would 
Martha have told the other woman the secret of the son so glibly not 
when she was angry or drunk if she knew she was breaching an 
old and sacred compact with her husband? It obtrudes as an arbitrary 
action to justify the ending. 

The really relevant unseen character is not the son; it is Martha's 
father, the president of the college. It is he whom she idolizes and 
measures her husband against, it is his presence George has to con- 



4 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

tend with in and out of bed. It is Daddy's power, symbolic in Martha, 
that keeps the visiting couple from leaving, despite circumstances 
that would soon have driven them out of any other house. 

Awareness of this truth about Daddy, of multiple other truths 
about themselves and their world is the theme of this play: not the 
necessity of narcotic illusion about the son, but naked, peeled aware 
ness. Under the vituperation and violence, under Martha's aggressive 
and self-punishing infidelities, this is the drama of a marriage flooded 
with more consciousness than the human psyche is at present able 
to bear. 

Their world is too much with them, their selves are much too clear. 
It is the price to be paid for living in a cosmos of increasing clarity 
which includes a clearer view of inevitable futilities. And, funda 
mentally, it is this desperation articulated in a childless, broken 
hearted, demonically loving marriage that Albee has crystallized 
in his flawed but fine play. 

And in its forthright dealing with the play, this becomes one of 
the most scathingly honest American films ever made. Its advertise 
ments say "No one under 18 will be admitted unless accompanied 
by his parent." This may safeguard the children; the parents must 
take their chances. 



Falstaft 

(WNDT-TV, New York, April 5, 1967) 

ONE of the most brilliant directors in film history has produced an 
other disappointment in an increasingly disappointing career. Orson 
WeUes's Falstaff is a talented disaster. Certainly it is not without the 
dazzling directorial touches that are in everything he does (particu 
larly the battle scenes), but most of those touches (excepting the 
battle scenes) are quite of the wrong, tristful, sere-and-yellow-leaf 
variety. 

Welles's failure here as director derives, I believe, from his laziness 
as actor. In his films of Othello and Macbeth, apart from their other 
inadequacies, he refused the major challenges in the title roles. He 



A YEAR WITH BLOW-UP 5 

fudged the big moments, found clever ways around them, gave us 
glimpses instead of confrontations, skimpy modern understatement 
instead of full-throated classical technique. In Falstaff, with a script 
pureed from both parts of Henry IV and from Henry V, Welles is 
simply too lazy or perhaps by now too frightened to take on the 
role as Shakespeare wrote it, not a jolly saloon-mural fat man but 
a giant of slyness, wit, guile, and vitality. W. H. Auden writes that 
Falstaff says, in effect, "I am I. Whatever I do, however outrageous, 
is of infinite importance because I do it." 

But this ebullience, this radiant self-confident energy, would be 
too much work for Welles, who has let the muscles of his talent get 
flabby, so again he devises a way around the part. He erects a theory 
of Falstaff as sinning saint or somnolent pseudo-Hamlet, which makes 
the character very much less trouble for him to play. 

We all know that he made this film, as he made several of his 
previous films, under great financial difficulties: in bits and pieces as 
he could scrape up the capital. Laurels to his persistence, then, but 
these stories of the business trials only make the result more rueful. 
All that business enterprise only to perpetuate an artistic laziness. 

And willfulness. What economic necessity forced him to use Jeanne 
Moreau as Doll Tearsheet? Here, putting the Left Bank on the 
South Bank, he has miscast Miss Moreau more flagrantly than he did 
in The Trial. The story of Welles's career begins to look like one of 
the great wastes of talent in our time. His films now give off a whiff 
of surly wrongheadedness, perhaps as his anger at self-wastage and at 
wastage by others begins to harden into an intricate but poorly 
reasoned position. 



A Year with Blow -Up Some Notes 

(Salmagundi, Spring 1968) 

I first saw Blow-Up in early December 1966, and in the months since, 
I have broadcast, written, and lectured considerably about it. Here 
are some notes on the experience. 



6 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Quite apart from its intrinsic qualities, Blow-Up is an extraordinary 
social phenomenon. It is the first film from abroad by a major foreign 
director to have immediate national distribution. It was seen here 
more widely and more quickly than, for instance, La Dolce Vita for 
at least two reasons: it was made in English and it was distributed by 
a major American company. There are other reasons, less provable 
but probably equally pertinent: its mod atmosphere, its aura of sexu 
ality, and, most important, its perfect timing. The end of a decade 
that had seen the rise of a film generation around the country was 
capped with a work by a recognized master that was speedily avail 
able around the country. 

So this was the first time in my experience that a new film had 
been seen by virtually everyone wherever I talked about it. Usually 
the complaint had been (by letter) after a published or broadcast 
review, "Yes, but where can we see the picture?" Or, after a talk at 
some college not near New York, "But it will take years to get here, 
if ever," or "We'll have to wait until we can rent a 16-millimeter 
print." With Blow-Up, people in Michigan and South Carolina and 
Vermont knew within weeks of the New York premiere the film 
that was being discussed. This exception to the usual slow-leak distri 
bution of foreign films had some interesting results. 

A happy result was that people had seen this picture at the local 
Bijou. Before, many of them had seen Antonioni only in film courses 
and in film clubs. This one they had seen between runs of How to 
Steal a Million and Hombre. To those in big cities this may seem 
commonplace, but in smaller communities it was a rare event and had 
some good effects. To some degree it alleviated culture- vulturism 
and snobbism; everyone in Zilchville had seen Blow-Up, not just the 
elite; so happily there was no cachet simply in having seen it. Further, 
the fact of seeing it at the Bijou underscored those elements in the 
film medium of popular mythos that are valuable and valid all those 
undefined and undefinable powers of warm communal embrace in the 
dark. 

But there were some less happy results of the phenomenon. There 
was a good deal of back-formation value judgment. Because Blow- 
Up was a financial success, it could not really be good, I heard, or 
at least it proved that Antonioni had sold out. We heard the same 
thing about Bellow and Herzog when that book became a best seller. 
The parallel holds further in that Blow-Up and Herzog seem to me 



A YEAR WITH BLOW-UP 7 

flawed but utterly Tracompromised works by fine artists. I confess I 
got a bit weary of pointing out that to condemn a work because it is 
popular is exactly as discriminating as praising it because it is a hit. 
Another discouraging consequence. Much of the discussion re 
flected modes of thought inculcated by the American academic mind, 
particularly in English departments. Almost everywhere there were 
people who wanted to discuss at length whether the murder in Blow- 
Up really happened or was an illusion. Now Antonioni, here as before, 
was interested in ambiguities; but ambiguities in art, like those in life, 
arise only from unambiguous facts which is what makes them in 
teresting. Anna in L'Avventura really disappeared; the ambiguities 
in morality arise from that fact. The lover in Blow-Up was really 
killed; the ambiguities in the hero's view of experience would not 
arise without that fact. (A quick "proof" that the murder was real: 
If it were not, why would the girl have wanted the pictures back? 
Why would the photographer's studio have been rifled? Why would 
we have been shown the pistol in the bushes? Some have even sug 
gested that the corpse we see is a dummy, or a live man pretending. 
But Hemmings touches it.) This insistence on anteater nosings in 
the film seemed much less a reflection on B low-Up than on an 
educational system a system that mistakes factitious chatter for 
analysis. 

On the other hand, an art teacher in a Nashville college told me, 
while driving me to the airport, that Blow-Up had given him a fulcrum 
with which to jimmy his previously apathetic students into seeing: 
seeing how the world is composed, how it is taken apart and recom- 
posed by artists. In his excitement he almost drove off the road twice.* 

The script is by Antonioni and his long-time collaborator Tonano 
Guerra, rendered in English by the young British playwright Edward 
Bond. It was suggested by a short story of the same name by the 
Argentinian author, resident in France, Julio Cortazar. Comparison 
of script and story is illuminating. 

* In the Saturday Review of December 27, 1969, Larry Cohen, recently gradu 
ated from the University of Wisconsin, speaks of the "new audience" and its 
interest dn relevance: "In this regard, Blow-Up functioned as the pivotal film; 
it radicalized the way in which many college students responded to film. ^ More 
than three years after it first appeared, it remains a significant milestone in this 
country's awareness of motion pictures."" 



8 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

In the story the hero is an Argentine translator living in Paris 
only an amateur photographer. One day while out walking, he photo 
graphs what he thinks is a pickup of a youth by an older woman. 
There is an older man sitting in a parked car nearby. After the picture 
is taken, the youth flees, the woman protests, and the man in the car 
gets out and protests, too. Later, studying the picture, the hero sees 
(or imagines he sees) that the woman was really procuring the youth 
for the man in the car and that the fuss over the photograph gave 
the youth a chance to escape. It is a story of the discovery of, in 
Cortazar's view, latent horror, the invisible immanence of evil. (It is 
incidentally amusing that the photographer feels no such horror when 
he thinks that the woman is seducing the boy for herself.) 

Antonioni retains little other than the device of subsequently dis 
covering in a photograph what was really happening at that moment. 
He makes the hero a professional photographer, thus greatly inten 
sifying the meaning of the camera in his life. By changing from the 
presumption of homosexuality to the fact of murder, Antonioni not 
only makes the discovered event more potent dramatically, he shifts 
it morally from the questionable to the unquestionable. At any time 
in history homosexuality has varied, depending on geography, in 
shades of good and evil. Murder, though more blinkable at some times 
and in some places than others, will be an evil fact so long as life has 
value. 

Most important, Antonioni shifts the moral action from fait accom 
pli to the present. His hero does not discover that he has been an 
agent of good, in a finished action. His dilemma is now. 

With his recent films Antonioni has suffered, I think, from two 
professional failings of critics. The first has been well described in a 
penetrating review of Blow-Up by Robert Garis (Commentary, 
April 1967). Garis notes that Henry James's public grew tired of 
him while he was inconsiderate enough to be working out his career 
and sticking to his guns; that Beckett, after the establishment of 
Waiting for Godot as a masterpiece, 

has been writing other beautiful and authentic plays quite similar to 
Godot, innocently unaware of that urgent necessity to move on, to find 
new themes and styles, that is so obvious to some of his critics ... If 



A YEAR WITH BLOW-UP y 

it is regrettable to see the public wearing out new fashions in art as fast as 
automobiles, it is detestable to see criticism going along with this, if not 
actually leading the charge. The Antonioni case is like Beckett's but 
intensified. There has been the same puzzled annoyance with an artist who 
keeps on thinking and feeling about themes that everyone can see are 
worn out themes like "lack of communication" or "commitment" There 
has been the same eagerness to master a difficult style and then the same 
relapse into boredom when that style turns out to be something the artist 
really takes seriously because that's the way he really sees things. 

Another point grows out of this. This impatience with artists who 
are less interested in novelty than in deeper exploration leads to 
critical blindness about subtle gradations within an artist's "terri 
tory." We saw a gross example of this blindness last year in the theater 
when Harold Pinter's The Homecoming was shoved into the "form 
less fear" bag along with his earlier plays. The fact that Pinter had 
shifted focus, that he was now using his minute, vernacular, almost 
Chinese ritualism to scratch the human cortex for comic purposes, 
not for frisson this was lost on most reviewers, who were just feeling 
comfy at finally having "placed" Pinter. 

So with Antonioni. He's the one who deals with alienation and 
despair, isn't he? So the glib or the prejudiced have the pigeonhole 
all ready. Obviously the temper of Antonioni, like that of any genuine 
artist, is bound to mark all his work; but even in his last film, Red 
Desert, as it seemed to me, he had pushed into new areas of his "ter 
ritory," was investigating the viability of hope, and had without 
question altered the rhythms of his editing to underscore a change 
of inquiry (not of belief ) . The editing is altered even further in Blow- 
Up. For instance, the justly celebrated sequence in which the hero 
suspects and then finds the murder in the photograph is quite unlike 
anything Antonioni has done before, in its accelerations and retards 
within a cumulative pattern. And the theme, too, seems to me an 
extension, a fresh inquiry, within Antonioni's field of interest. Here 
his basic interest seems to be in the swamping of consciousness by the 
conduits of technology. The hero takes some photographs of lovers, 
and thinks he has recorded a certain experience of which he is con 
scious; but, as he learns subsequently, his technology has borne in 
on him an experience of which he was not immediately aware, which 
he cannot understand or handle. He is permanently connected with 



10 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

a finished yet permanently unfinished experience. It seems to me a 
good epitome of same-size man vis-a-vis the expanding universe. 

There are concomitant themes. One of them is success but suc 
cess today, which is available to youth as it has never been. The hero 
has money, and the balls that money provides in a money society, 
about twenty years earlier than would have been the general case 
twenty years ago; and he is no rare exception. Yet his troubles in 
this film do not arise from his money work but out of his "own" work* 
the serious work he does presumably out of the stings of conscience. 
(What else would drive a fashion-world hero to spend the night in a 
flophouse?) He can handle the cash cosmos; it is when he ventures 
into himself, leaves commissioned work and does something of his 
own, that he gets into trouble. 

Along with this grows the theme of youth itself. This world is not 
only filled with but dominated by youth, in tastes and tone. (There 
are only two non-youths of prominence in the film. One, a nasty old 
clerk in an antique shop, resents the youth of the hero on sight. The 
other, a middle-aged lover, gets murdered.) The solidarity of youth 
is demonstrated in the hero's compunction to "prove" his strange ex 
perience to his friends. When one of his friends, the artist's wife, sug 
gests that he notify the police of the murder (and her suggestion is 
in itself rather diffident), he simply doesn't answer to the point, as if 
law and criminality were outside the matter to him. Ex-soldiers say 
they can talk about combat only with other ex-soldiers. The com 
munion of generations is somewhat the same. The hero doesn't want 
Their police; he wants certification by his friends. 

Color is exquisite in Antonioni's films, and it is more than decor 
or even commentary; it is often chemically involved in the scene. In 
the shack in Red Desert, the walls of the bunk in which the picnickers 
lounge are bright red and give a highly erotic pulse to a scene in which 
sex is only talked about. In Blow-Up the hero and two teen-age girls 
have a romp on a large sheet of pale purple-lavender paper that cools 
a steamy Mttle orgy into a kind of idyll. 

This is the first feature that Antonioni has made outside Italy, and 
It shows a remarkable ability to cast acutely in a country where he 
does not know the corps of working actors intimately. (He discovered 
David Hemmings in the Hampstead Theatre Club "off-Broadway.") 
It also shows a remarkable ability to absorb and redeploy the essences 



A YEAR WITH BLOW-UP 11 

of a foreign city without getting either prettily or grimly picturesque. 
But there are three elements in this film that betray some unease an 
unease attributable perhaps to the fact that he was "translating" as he 
went, not only in language but also in experience. 

The first is the plot strand of the neighboring artist and his wife. 
(Several people asked during the year why I call her his wife and not 
his girl friend. Answer: She wears a wedding ring. If it is unduly 
naive to assume from this that the artist is her husband, it seems 
unduly sophisticated to assume that he is not.) This element has the 
effect of patchwork, as if it had not been used quite as intended or as 
if it were unfulfilled in its intent. The relationship between them and 
the hero is simply not grasped. The poorest scene in the entire film 
is the one in which the wife (Sarah Miles) visits the hero's studio 
after he has seen her making love with her husband. It is wispy and 
scrappy. The discomfort is the director's. 

The second is the scene with the folk-rock group and the stampede 
for the discarded guitar. The scene has the mark of tourism on it, 
a phenomenon observed by an outsider and included for complete 
ness' sake. Obviously Antonioni would not be a member of such a 
group in Italy any more than in England, but he would have known 
a thousand subtle things about Italian youths and their backgrounds 
that might have made them seem particularized, less a bunch of rep 
resentatives en bloc. 

The third questionable element is the use of the clown-faced 
masquers at the beginning and the end which really means at the 
end, because they would not have been used at the start except to 
prepare for the end. Firstly, the texture of these scenes is jarring. 
Their symbolism overt and conscious conflicts with the digested 
symbolism of the rest of the film. It has a mark of strain and un- 
familiarity about it, again like a phenomenon observed (partying 
Chelsea students, perhaps) and uncomfortably adapted. It is Cocteau 
strayed into Camus. 

Much has been made of the clowns' thematic relevance, in that 
they provide a harbor of illusion for the hero after a fruitless voyage 
into reality. But precisely this thematic ground provides an even 
stronger objection to them, I think, than the textural one mentioned 
above. Thematically I think that the film is stronger without them, 
that it makes its points more forcibly. Suppose the picture began with 
Hemmings coming out of the flophouse with the derelicts, conversing 
with them, then leaving them and getting into his Rolls. At once it 



12 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

seems more like Antonioni. And suppose it ended (where in fact 
I thought it was going to end) with the long shot of Hemmings walk 
ing away after he has discovered that the corpse has been removed. 
Everything that the subsequent scene supplies would already be there 
by implication everything and we would be spared the cloudy 
symbols of high romance. Again it would be more like Antonioni. 

All three of these lapses can possibly be traced to his working in a 
country where every last flicker of association and hint is not familiar 
and subconsciously secure. 

On the other hand I think that two much-repeated criticisms of 
Blow-Up are invalid. Some have said that Antonioni seemingly 
ridicules the superficial world of fashion but is really reveling in it, 
exploiting it. It is hard to see how he could have made a film on this 
subject without photographing it. One may as well say that, in explor 
ing the world of sexual powers and confusions in A Married Woman, 
Godard merely exploited nudity. By showing us the quasi-tarts of 
fashion (sex appeal, instead of sex, by the hour) in all their gum- 
chewing vapidity and by showing us how easily the Superbeautiful 
can be corrected by someone who understands beauty, Antonioni 
does more than mock a conspicuously consuming society: he creates 
a laughable reality against which to pose a genuinely troubling 
ambiguity. 

Another widespread objection has been to the role that Vanessa 
Redgrave plays. The character has been called unclear. But this seems 
to me true only in conventional nineteenth-century terms of character 
development. In a television interview with me, Antonioni said that 
Miss Redgrave read the script and wanted to play the part because 
he lifted his hand in a gesture of placement on the screen "Sta IV 

"She stands there"; she has no explanations, no antecedents, no 
further consequences in the hero's life. I take this to mean that she 
is an analogue of the murder itself, an event rather than a person, un 
forgettable yet never knowable, and therefore perfectly consonant 
with the film. 

Purely professionally from an actress's view, the role was a chal 
lenge because she has only two scenes, and those relatively brief 
appearances have to be charged with presence at once satisfying and 
tantalizing. Miss Redgrave met this challenge with ease, I think, not 



PERSONA 13 

only because she has beauty and personality and distinctive talent but 
because she played the role against an unheard counterpoint: a secret 
and complete knowledge of who this young woman is. There is almost 
a hint that she is protecting Hemmings, that if he knew all that she 
knows, his life would disintegrate. 

Thus my year of recurrent involvement with Blow-Up and some 
observations about it. Now Antonioni has announced that he will 
make a film in America. I have two feelings about this. I am glad: 
because I would like to see how he sees America, just as I was glad 
to see his view of London. I also have reservations: because he 
functions more completely where he is rooted. Fine directors like 
Renoir and Duvivier and Seastrom and Eisenstein have all made films 
away from home, all of which contain good things but none of which 
is that man's best work. Some directors, like Lean and Huston, have 
functioned at their best in foreign places, but they are not quintes- 
sentially societal directors. Antonioni (like Bergman in this respect) 
has been best in a society that is second nature to him, that has long 
fed and shaped him, that he has not had to "study." 

It is something of a miracle that he made Blow-Up as well as he 
did. Its imperfections arise, I think, from having to concentrate on 
the miracle. Still, to say that I like Blow-Up the least of his films 
since L'Avventura is a purely relative statement. I would be content 
to see one film a year as good as Blow-Up from Antonioni or any 
one else for the rest of my life. 



Persona 

(New American Review #2, January 1968) 

SHORTLY after I saw Ingmar Bergman's Persona for the first time, 
I discovered the writings of R. D. Laing. Laing is a Scottish psychia 
trist, blazingly humane, who is trying to understand (among other 
things) how madness becomes the sanity of the mad. A passage from 
his book The Divided Self might serve as epigraph for Persona: 



14 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

The unrealness of perceptions and the falsity and meaninglessness of all 
activity are the necessary consequences of perception and activity being 
in the command of a false self a system partially dissociated from the 
"true" self. . . . 

Bergman's film begins with an actress, young and successful, who 
has suffered these consequences. All activity has become false and 
meaningless to her. In the middle of a performance of Electra she 
stops cold; after a moment she giggles and continues; but next day 
she is mute, almost catatonic. Her physician understands that the 
actress is obsessed by this disjunction between true and false selves. 
The actress is shackled, says the doctor, by a sense of her own false 
ness, by the growing difference between what the world thinks of her 
and what she knows of herself. (Her profession is well chosen by 
Bergman to underscore her condition: not because she pretends 
nightly to be someone else but because the truth she creates in that 
pretense is greater than the truth of her own being.) What can one 
do? the doctor says calmly to the mute patient. Suicide? No, that 
would be vulgar. Silence. In ceasing to speak, the actress has, by her 
own values at least, stopped lying. 

The doctor assigns to her a nurse of about her age, then sends 
patient and nurse to the doctor's own country house by the sea. There, 
in the dissolved-pearl light of the Swedish coast that we saw in 
Through a Glass Darkly, most of Persona takes place. 

Before the titles of the film, we see a series of disconnected shots: 
a film projector's arc light hissing alive into glare, the "leader" of a 
reel of film, a snatch of silent-film slapstick, a sheep's eye being 
gouged, a nail being driven through a human hand. In a morgue full 
of corpses an adolescent boy sits up, reads, then stretches his hand to 
ward a pane of glass behind which is an immense face that soon 
melds with another immense face. Later we learn that these are 
the faces of the actress (his mother?) and of the nurse. This dis 
jointed beginning, made of splinters of horror and showmanship, is 
like a quick jagged tour of the actress's mind images that terrify 
and also, in an Olympian way, amuse her. 

After the titles, the film slashes ahead with the swiftness that comes 
not from speed but from a superb power of distillation. Everything 
is lean, yet everything is rich. This we expect from Bergman. What 
might not have been expected, and what is highly gratifying, is that 



PERSONA 15 

he has found an answer in art to what lately has been troubling his art. 
In his last three serious films Through a Glass Darkly, Winter 
Light, and The Silence Bergman has used increasingly parsimo 
nious means for increasingly subjective exploration. (I omit his recent 
comedy, All These Women, and I wish he had omitted it. Berg 
man has little wit or humor except peripherally when treating a 
serious subject.) These films were masterfully made, but they seemed 
introspectively remote rather than dramatized, so much so that they 
gave the viewer almost a sense of intrusion. I had the growing fear 
that Bergman, his breathtaking techniques undiminished, his power 
with actors as full as ever, had become disheartened: by a sense of 
irrelevance, his irrelevance; by the imperative to choose what to com 
municate, by the hopelessness of choosing, by the hopelessness of 
finding artistic means after he had chosen. It seemed as if, in refuge, 
he was keeping a kind of private journal in public. But Persona is a 
successful work of art, and what is especially happy about it is that 
Bergman, far from abandoning the psychical questions that consume 
him, has plunged further into them. He has made his film unfold its 
matter at us, instead of hugging it close. 

Most of Persona consists of the isolation of these two young 
women, patient and nurse, in the cottage by the sea: the mute ac 
tress, the talkative nurse. The latter is lively, frank, and intelligent, 
without being in the least intellectual a girl who has reasoned out 
her attitude toward life. She has had her heartbreak: a long love affair 
with a married man that came to nothing. She has had her shock at 
learning what she is capable of doing: a casual but wild sex orgy 
(which she recounts) that she found herself enjoying. She is now 
engaged to a man whom she wants to marry but whom she does not 
love. In short, she has had some experience of disappointment and 
of self-surprise and is still capable of engaging life she -wants to 
engage it. 

The drama consists of the process through which, in their isola 
tion and through the nurse's virtually solo discourse, she almost se 
duces herself into the actress's condition, almost talks and frets 
herself into psychological identity with her patient. There is, to begin 
with, a distinct physical resemblance between them. (Bergman has 
said that this is what started him thinking about this film.) There are 
other points of contact: sufficient disgust in the nurse with herself 
and the world, sufficient admiration in her almost schoolgirlish 



16 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

for the Artist. We have a growing sense that the actress is abetting 
the process. Through her very silence she is "using" the nurse, partly 
out of genuine interest, partly out of need for entertainment, but 
partly out of diabolic tease, the hatred of the sick for the well or at 
least of the hampered for the relatively unhampered. The teasing 
culminates when the actress deliberately leaves unsealed a letter to 
be mailed by the nurse, in which she speaks patronizingly of her 
companion. 

This unsealed letter, which is of course read by the nurse, is the 
turning point of the film, of the nurse's mental state. She ceases to 
be a nurse; she becomes an antagonist, a competitor. Her ministering 
and her adulation are superseded by a desire to strike back, even by 
an (unconscious) desire to join the actress in the shadow world 
there to beat her, meld with her, somehow be acknowledged by her. 
One particularly fine sequence catapults the nurse into the realm of 
different realities. Barefoot and in a bathing suit, she drops a glass 
on the stone terrace and quickly sweeps up the pieces. Then, just as 
she picks up the last splinter, she hears the actress coming; she re 
places the splinter on the ground and goes inside. Out comes the 
actress, also barefoot, and starts pacing up and down. The camera 
is inside with the nurse as she listens. The sharp "ouch" comes at 
last. Fiercely the nurse turns to the window and watches. Then the 
screen itself spilts, and there is a quick reprise of one of the "pre- 
title" shots a nail being driven through a hand. Now the nurse is 
so close to the actress that she shares one of her mental images. 

She is so close that later she tells the actress the reasons why the 
latter bore and then rejected her child. (And Bergman has her tell it 
twice once as we watch the listening actress, once as we watch the 
nurse. The repetition has the effect of an incantation, almost a wedding 
ceremony.) The nurse is so close that, near the end, she herself is, 
for a time, reduced to speaking gibberish. 

But the possible synthesis of the pair ends when the nurse, in 
frenzy, scratches her own wrist, and the actress almost arrogantly, 
triumphantly sucks the blood. The shock of both actions brings the 
nurse back to her reality, forces her to realize what has happened, 
that the nurse-patient relation has been destroyed. Then they both 
know that they must part. We do not actually see the actress leave, 
although we see her packing. But we see the nurse leave the camera 



PERSONA 17 

watches her past a female ship's-figurehead in the foreground. There 
is a split-second reference to the performance of Electra in which the 
actress first froze. The two images tell us that the nurse is figuratively 
leaving the actress where she found her. The nurse walks down the 
road and takes a bus. Then, as at the start, we see a motion picture 
projector; the reel of film unravels, the arc light fizzles out, the film 
of the film finishes. This is no simplistic sign that we have been 
watching illusion. Bergman is no surer than anyone else (he seems to 
say) as to what illusion is. He is giving us a metaphor of the film's 
ambiguous subject, sanity and madness: a realm which, as Laing 
tells us, is self-defined, not platonically absolute. Bergman's drama 
is in the attraction of the truth of the "true" inner self (Laing's term) 
as against the generally prevailing and venerated falsity of the outer 
world. At the last the nurse pulls free of the actress's state, not be 
cause of any indisputable and superior standard of rationality but 
because of her own irrationality. That, I think, is the essence of the 
film. If we talk of reason, there is probably as much reason on the 
mute actress's side, on the side of withdrawal, of inner purgation. 
What moves the nurse finally is a stubborn /^rational will to live 
to live in the majority's terms, in terms of the world's continuity. 

Artistically this film succeeds because its action and its symbols 
are more than recognizable, they are disturbing. All of Bergman's 
mature films are miracles of technique, but the recent ones have 
seemed picture exhibitions of familiar concepts of our era, neatly 
stated. Persona does not break fresh ground (hardly a requisite of 
art) , but it throws a hot light on certain ideas that make them more 
painful than ever. The actress's state is so compelling, the nurse's 
desire to join her is so touching, that we are lashed to this film as 
to our own psyches (and to our own unacknowledged longings for 
withdrawal) . The bitterness of the "healthy" ending makes this all the 
more true. 

The visual quality is exquisite. (Sven Nykvist is again Bergman's 
magician-photographer.) This quality gives the needed ambiguity 
to the dream visit of the actress's persumably blind husband when he 
makes love to the nurse, thinking it is his wife, with the actress stand 
ing by. It converts what may be a lesbian encounter from the literally 
sexual into the chemically unified. The shot of the two women, wear 
ing broad-brimmed hats in the sun, peeling mushrooms and hum- 



18 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

ming; a long shot of (he nurse standing by a pond on a rainy day, or 
the sequence in which she sits through a night alone on the beach; the 
scene in which the light deepens on the actress's face in her hospital 
bed as the radio plays Bach visual experiences such as these con 
tain the film in little and may also be what actively survives of it in 
memory. 

Imperfections in Persona are few and therefore obtrusive. The 
moment after the twice-told tale of the actress's son when half 
of one woman's face is matched with half of the other's is heavy, 
super fluous. A photograph of German soldiers and Jewish civilians 
falls quite fortuitously out of a book to remind the actress of the 
world's horror. The film is so fine that the fingers itch to tear out 
these and a few other blemishes. 

Liv Ullmann, a Norwegian, makes her first appearance in America 
in the role of the actress. (She has since made another film with 
Bergman.) Because she speaks four lines at most, it is too early to 
form a complete judgment of her, but she has a wonderfully taking, 
intelligent face, and she has the ability to listen evocatively. Bibi 
Andersson, one of the best young actresses on the screen, plays the 
nurse with such subtle yet straightforward truth that she quite erases 
the effect of her recent excursions into American nonsense (Duel 
at Diablo) and Swedish nonsense (My Sister, My Love). 



Bonnie and Clyde 

(New American Review #2, January 1968) 

LITERATURE has been the source of content for innumerable films, 
but in Bonnie and Clyde it is the source of form. Such literary influ 
ence is supposed by some to be the enemy of the film medium, yet 
it has helped Arthur Penn to make his best picture. 

That is qualified praise. His past work includes The Chase (hor 
rendous), Mickey One (pretentious), The Miracle Worker (imita 
tive), and The Left-Handed Gun (affected). Bonnie and Clyde adds 
up to much less than the sum of its parts, but some of its parts are 
extraordinarily good, and one of those parts is its structure. 



BONNIE AND CLYDE 19 

It is built on two interlocking views of a literary form: the ballad. 
The story is based, loosely, on the lives of Bonnie Parker and Clyde 
Barrow, the killer-bandits of Texas and the Midwest in the early 
1930s who were finally gunned down after a number of robberies 
and murders. The thematic apex of the film is a ballad that Bonnie 
writes and publishes in a newspaper (this is factual) about her and 
Clyde's exploits. But Penn has also conceived of the entire film as a 
ballad. Many sequences end with a flourish of twangy banjo music, 
as if a stanza had just concluded. The attitude of the film toward its 
hero and heroine outlawed, brave, doomed and the subject matter 
itself are those of the traditional ballad, which, as Lionel Trilling 
has noted, usually concerns an act of violence. 

From these interlocking views come the film's virtues, which are 
all the result of a hard look at naturalism with romantic eyes. Penn 
treats killing as killing; his actors don't just fall down, they die. Still 
he understands the romantic connection between outlawry and space. 
Gangsters operate in cities, but gangsterism is never romantic 
(though it is often sexually exciting). The outlaw lives in open 
country the West, Sicily, Australia, the Scottish Highlands. The 
bravado of sortie and escape, the association of nobility with open 
space and ignobility with the confines of grubbers, these attitudes 
underlie the film. Burnett Guffey's color camerawork articulates these 
feelings; he combines the starkness of East Texas and the Midwest 
with a haunting, almost picturesque quality. (In one lucky moment 
a cloud crosses the sun during a long shot of Clyde chasing Bonnie 
through a cornfield.) The 193kOs clothes, designed by Theadora Van 
Runkle, are as veristic and nostalgic as old phonograph records. 
Dede Allen's editing gives a long melancholy sweep to some se 
quences but also gives a terrible flesh-thumping impact to the gun 
fights. 

The film has other assets. Its chief performances are in tune with 
its double view. Warren Beatty, who is also the producer, plays Clyde 
and at last gets past his sales image of the mumbling small-town 
rooster into admirable theatricality and color. Faye Dunaway, as 
Bonnie, has the right scrawny itch of the cafe waitress who first be 
comes aware of frustrations through her genitals but discovers she 
is more complex than she knew. Gene Hackman, as Clyde's brother 
and accomplice (often sounding and looking like a younger LBJ), 
makes a vivid, homespun killer. Estelle Parsons, as his wife, clucks 



20 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

like a hen among hawks, a plump bourgeoise who, by the accident 
of marriage, finds herself an outlaw. And Michael J. Pollard, one 
of the gang, is affecting as Aaron Slick transported from Punkin 
Crick and given a submachine gun. All of them owe a good deal to 
Penn's ability to direct actors. 

But the film owes its ultimate failure, I think, to Penn's basic 
shortcomings. The first screenplay by David Newman and Robert 
Benton was, reportedly, written before Penn entered the project; 
but the final result seems to show his influence at least it reflects 
Penn's profile in the way the facts of the story have been altered. 
Alteration, as such, is of course perfectly in order: for instance, if 
Penn did not want an ugly Bonnie, a Bonnie who was married when 
she met Clyde and who continued to have a busy sex life of an ec 
centric kind with him and many others, the alteration of these facts 
could be ascribed to dramatic license. But most of the changes and 
emphases have been devised for a particular kind of aggrandizement 
a ring of contemporary resonance that is hollow. 

First, there is the Freudian theme. When Clyde and Bonnie meet, 
he proves to her that he is dangerous (virile) by showing her his 
revolver; she then fingers the barrel. When she becomes violently 
excited by watching him hold up a store, he confesses that he is 
impotent. She makes various attempts through the film to rouse him 
(including the clearest suggestion of fellation that I have so far seen 
in an American picture France, look to thy laurels), but he re 
mains inactive. It is only when she reads him the published ballad of 
their career, near the finish, that he is able to function, and it is only 
then that we understand why the subject of impotence has been in 
cluded. When he feels that he is somebody, has been immortalized, 
then he can be male. This sex-and-selfhood complex is an invention 
of the scriptwriters, which would not matter except that they cannot 
make it ring true. They have to make Clyde explain endlessly why 
he deliberately chose this pretty girl as a partner (when he first sees 
her, she is naked!), knowing that it must lead to his chagrin. The 
real explanation for this Freudian theme, I think, is that it is part of 
the entertainment industry's new intellectual veneer. 

This is even more true of the other dominant theme, economic 
determinism, which is patently fabricated. We are to believe that 
Clyde becomes a robber of banks because, in the Depression, he 



BONNIE AND CLYDE 21 

comes to identify banks with oppression; yet he committed armed 
robbery, and was imprisoned for it, before he makes this identifica 
tion. Policemen, to the film's Clyde, are quasi-autonomous enemies 
of the poor; the scriptwriters keep him from seeing that policemen 
are usually poor men, too, and that in those Depression days they 
felt very lucky to have jobs and would do almost anything to keep 
them. (So would any of those dispossessed farmers, if they had been 
able to get police jobs.) Clyde never kills anyone until a grocer whom 
he is robbing tries to kill him. This shocks Clyde the discovery 
that people will kill to protect their property. Yet he carried a pistol 
long before that and would presumably have used it if necessary. Be 
sides, all he himself does in the film is acquire property, as far as he 
is able; he is no Robin Hood. There is a scene in an Okie camp (beau 
tifully photographed) in which the dispossessed farmers treat the 
wounded bandits like People's Heroes, but there is next to no basis in 
the film for this attitude. 

Both themes, proletarian and Freudian, are hollow, purely as 
sumed. In the film's own terms, nothing more than thrill-seeking 
and self-aggrandizement starts the pair on their career. The scenes 
meant to create sympathy for them like the horseplay between the 
Barrow brothers, and the Parker family reunion are blatantly laid 
on, like scenes in the thirties propaganda plays that showed the em 
battled worker with a happy, if harried, home life. As a result, when 
the police finally ambush the pair and splatter them with bullets, 
when Clyde falls to the ground in "poetic" slow motion and the 
akeady dead Bonnie jiggles on the car seat under the continuing fu 
sillade, we feel little more than that this is the way the picture ends. 
There is no horror at the grimness of society's grinding, none of the 
noble arch of the folk epic that was presumably intended. Our sympa 
thy has been dissipated by the dozens of other victims of society 
who happened to be tellers or policemen akeady killed by the Bar 
row gang. Bonnie and Clyde simply go over the cliff they have been 
headed toward all along; there is no tragedy. 

This disappointing picture is a superior example of an inferior 
breed: the film of make-believe meaning. Changes in America have, 
inevitably, changed the tone of its film industry; a college-bred gen 
eration of producers and directors (and screenwriters and publicity 
men) has come into being quite different in self -estimate and status 



22 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

hunger from the first few generations of American film workers. (On 
my last trip to Hollywood I visited the set of a machine-made situa 
tion comedy; when a break was called, the thick-spectacled young 
assistant director put down the script and picked up a collection of 
the short novels of Henry James.) This latest film-making genera 
tion that has come to power (to power as opposed to small in 
dependent or "underground" film makers) operates comfortably 
within a cosmos of intense commercial pressure to which these men 
have nicely adjusted their ambitions for intellectual prestige. But this 
reconciliation prevents them from making the sheer entertainments, 
comic or serious, of the palmy Hollywood days the "sincere" days, 
as Jean-Luc Godard once described them with peculiar accuracy; 
and of course it also prevents fidelity to art and intellect. What we 
get are entertainment films on which "meaning" is either grossly im 
pasted or is clung to only as long as convenient. For instance, the 
film of Up the Down Staircase takes several of the harshest problems 
of urban education and faces them with new contemporary honesty 
until it turns its back on them. 

It is relevant, I think, that many of this new generation of Amer 
ican directors Penn, Sidney Lumet, Robert Mulligan, John Frank- 
enheimer, Stuart Rosenberg, Irvin Kershner, Norman Jewison come 
from television, and most of them from television's so-called golden 
age: that is, the postwar decade when TV was mouthing some seri 
ous ideas in half-hour or one-hour or hour-anda-half segments, 
precisely measured, with interstices for commercials and with no 
offense to sponsors. These men are thus adept in idea-tailoring, either 
cutting serious material to measure or embroidering lesser material 
with seriousness. All of them have directorial skill; some of them have 
a great deal of it. What they do not have is wholeness of being, ex 
pressed wholly in their films the wholeness that distinguishes a 
range of foreign directors, from the best to the good, from Bergman 
and Antonioni to Alain Jessua and Ermanno Olmi. 

Visually these American directors are acute, and they have helped 
to make fine photography a commonplace in American films. But 
even visually they betray themselves. They try to give weight to 
flimsy material with superb camerawork (Haskell Wexler's superb 
photography for a gimmicky race-relations thriller, In the Heat of the 
Night, directed by Jewison). They use close-ups that are meant to 



BONNIE AND CLYDE 23 

seem unconventionally truthful but that dare nothing and say nothing 
(a dead dog's paw, a singing convict's mouth in Rosenberg's Cool 
Hand Luke). They strain to include entire sequences that are only 
inserted Arias for Cinematographer (the Parker family reunion in 
Bonnie and Clyde) . Pictorially as well as intellectually, they are clever 
utilizers. 

These new directors know enough about art and ideas to feed the 
ravenous appetite of the new middle class for culture status, and still 
not permit art and ideas to get out of hand to have any of the results 
for which they were devised. The Western becomes adult and the 
crime film becomes Freudo-Marxist so that we can go to Westerns and 
crime films without skulking in and out of the theater. The glossy 
marital comedy (Stanley Donen's Two for the Road) pilfers enough 
from new French film art so that we can know we are "keeping up" 
as well as enjoying ourselves. (It even gets praised for this pilfering 
as proof that the commercial film is maturing. Some years ago Lucky 
Strike based a magazine ad campaign on Mondrian themes and was 
praised for maturing the ad business.) The film of make-believe 
meaning makes everybody feel smarter without risking anything. 

None of this is to whip further the well-whipped middle class. 
That would be like beating a live horse which is already galloping. 
It is simply to identify a contemporary phenomenon. A generation 
ago, directors resembling the ones I have mentioned might have been 
called sellouts. These men today are not sellouts. They betray nothing 
in themselves. They have been educated and conditioned by their 
culture to serve their culture, which they do without unease and with 
much finesse. 

Perhaps we are in a transitional state as a result of the national 
surge in education, en route to a genuinely demanding public. We 
can certainly hope so; we cannot yet believe so. Meanwhile, though 
these directors probably feel "sincere" in Godard's sense, to an ob 
server they seem laden with pretense. I prefer Little Caesar and 
The Public Enemy to Bonnie and Clyde; to me they are "sincere" 
pictures, uninhibited examples of popular art. On the other hand I 
also prefer Francesco Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano to Bonnie and Clyde. 
Rosi's Marxist film (about the Sicilian bandit) is faultily built, but it 
is unmistakably Rosi's complete response to the story of Giuliano, 
and it was made for no other reason on earth but to express the whole- 



24 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

ness of Rosi's being on that subject. It is not a star vehicle nor a cul 
ture comfort-station for (better) book club members. Neither of 
these denials applies to Bonnie and Clyde. 

POSTSCRIPT. The above was written in the summer of 1967. Within 
two and a half years, there had been a transition to at least one new 
kind of "genuinely demanding public." The baccalaureate bour 
geoisie had been strenuously jostled by the anti-bourgeois young. 
(Further discussion of this later.) The fat-cat sureness of fortyish 
Hollywood moguls has been badly shaken now, as previously de 
pendable patterns of film making drew small audiences and as other 
films were unpredictably successful. Worse for the moguls, there 
weren't even any new patterns to be deduced from the new successes. 
I happened to attend a trade screening of Midnight Cowboy shortly 
before it opened in New York, which was well after the epochal 
success of The Graduate and the solid success of Bonnie and Clyde. 
That screening room held about sixty film business people and theater 
owners, and when the picture was finished, there was silence; then 
there were a lot of uneasy little sideways smiles and a growing atmo 
sphere of quiet courage in the face of what looked like certain finan 
cial disaster. 

The success of Bonnie and Clyde, in relation to the young audience, 
was somewhat different from that of The Graduate. The latter ob 
viously dealt directly with them, the former was taken analogically. 
A lot of different admirations that I heard for Penn's picture at 
colleges and universities around the country could be summed up in 
one reference that was made to a maxim of Chairman Mao's: in a 
time of injustice, the honest course is to be a bandit. The analogy 
seemed, and seems, superficial. The two killer-lovers of this film are 
adventurers with strong sex-ego drives, with only patches of social 
consciousness patently stitched onto them. They are a long way, for 
instance, from the young Jean Genet, who lived by theft in France 
but refused to steal in Nazi Germany because it provided too little 
contrast with the national environment. 

There is no point in arguing with the fact of Bonnie and Clyde's 
success; nor have I tried above to diminish what I think are its virtues; 
but the superstructure of ideas built up around it by some young 
people seems to me to blur and to magnify a saga of egocentric 
anarchy. 



ULYSSES; PASSAGES FROM FINNEGANS WAKE 25 
Ulysses; Passages from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake 

(New American Review #2, January 1968) 

SUBJECTIVITY intense exploration of persona and person has fas 
cinated film makers for decades, so I suppose it was inevitable that 
the two greatest novels of subjectivity in English Ulysses and 
Finnegans Wake would someday reach the screen. The decisive 
difference between the two films is that one of them recognizes the 
impossibility of its task and has considerable merit, the other seems 
to believe that it has done the job and is a considerable dud. 

The dud is Ulysses, adapted by Joseph Strick and Fred Haines and 
directed by Strick. Because the film's assumption is that it has en 
compassed the book, we must start with what the book is about. 
There is little mystery on that point. Joyce's general intent has been 
well described by Alfred Kazin: "He sought to bring the largest pos 
sible quantity of human life under the discipline of the observing 
mind, and the mark of his success is that he gave an epic form to 
what remains invisible to most novelists." Specifically for Ulysses, 
one can justly (I believe) conjecture Joyce's initial premise: If I take 
an average day in the life of an average man and tell everything about 
it in act and thought and half-thought and association I will de 
scribe the history and condition of contemporary Western man. 

What do we get from Strick? A film that consists mainly of, on 
the one hand, pleas for brotherhood anti-anti-Semitism and, on 
the other hand, sexual candor. Candor in word, not in act. These ele 
ments are of course in the novel, but they are only parts of the novel 
and are quite carefully integrated. The novel's anti-anti-Semitism is 
not fed us in Stanley Kramer spoonfuls. In fact it is not brother 
hood propaganda at all: Leopold Bloom's status as a Jew in Dublin 
symbolizes every man's status as an outsider in modern society. 
The sexual frankness is hardly a minor part of the book; Joyce 
was one of the first novelists to insist on the omnipresence of 
sexual drives. One can even see him "trying out" sexual frankness 
in his early letters to his wife (in those of his letters, one may add, 
that can be published). But to wrench sex out of the general "in 
visible" texture of Ulysses is sheer vandalism. 

Many people have been impressed because there is nothing in 



26 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Stride's film that is not in the book.* This is a good Hollywood defi 
nition of integrity. It does not bother these people that there is far less 
in the film than in the book: that to reproduce an ear and a leg does 
not reproduce a whole man, no matter how faithfully the ear and leg 
are reproduced. To insist that ear-and-leg fidelity is fidelity to the 
whole man is phony praise particularly when there is a very good 
market for ears and legs at the moment. 

Concede the necessity to shoot the film in present-day Dublin, even 
though some of the dialogue and attitudes sound odd in a 1960s 
setting. Concede that such a passage as the birth of Mina Purefoy's 
baby could not be reproduced on film because it depends on a pro 
gression of prose styles for which there is no cinematic analogue. Do 
not even object because all the mythological references are omitted 
so that it is impossible from this film to understand the title. Still we 
can ask why the things that the film has attempted have not been done 
well. There is some good, brisk, youthful feeling in the opening at 
the Martello tower; past that, the going is lame. Outstandingly inept 
is the Walpurgisnacht scene in the Dublin stews, which sinks to the 
imaginatively limp level of Strick's film made from Genet's brothel 
play, The Balcony. Surely if there is one power easily in the film's 
grasp, it is fluidity the ability to suggest flowing dream states. Strick 
gives us a series of photographs head-on, cornily lighted, edited 
in clickety-clack style. Molly Bloom's codal soliloquy is simply a 
monologue with illustrations, with nothing like the torrential effect 
that it needs. And, of course, the soliloquy is edited to concentrate on 
the sexual passages. This is "fearlessness" and "honesty." 

Barbara Jefford, as Molly, is the most competent of the cast, though 
not my image of that domineering, pathetic, vaginal universe of a 
woman. Maurice Roeves, the Dedalus, is too handsome for the part. 
Milo O'Shea, the Bloom, is an empty moonfaced vaudeviUian, 
utterly at sea. This would be clear in any event; it is doubly clear after 
having seen Zero Mostel (tricky though he was) in the role on stage. 

In contrast with Strick's effort, Mary Ellen Bute's film is called 
Passages from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and with this modest 
claim, it succeeds surprisingly well. Miss Bute had to deal with less 
story as such than there is in Ulysses, but she also had to decide on all 

* Richard EUmann points out that this is not quite true, that there are "rare 
and infelicitous interpolations." (New York Review, June 15, 1967) 



ULYSSES; PASSAGES FROM FINNEGANS WAKE 27 

settings and in many cases to select the speakers. She based her film 
script on Mary Manning's dramatization, in regard to which Denis 
Johnston wrote: "Joyce . . . presents us with a play where, as in 
the Song of Solomon, we are expected to work out for ourselves who 
it is that is reporting or being reported in every line." Even more 
stringently than the stage adapter, the film maker is pressed against 
the thorns of this problem every split second of the time. In the main 
Miss Bute has coped with it sympathetically and impressively. The 
proof is not in any checking that can be done one opinion is as 
good as another but that, by and large, the film achieves the inner 
most effect of the great dream novel. 

It is a bit too long: ten minutes less (it runs 97 minutes) would be 
twenty minutes better. Some of it is as cornily lighted as Strick's 
Ulysses. The music is often sheer movie music. Some of the pictorial 
compositions have a whiff of home movies; others have a whiff of the 
film school. But what keeps the film from slipping into amateurism, 
what redeems it far past its faults, is the very strong sense of Miss 
Bute's vision: her loving perception of the novel and her response 
to it in cinematic imagination. She has imposed a stern dream logic 
on her material. She extracts a sequence, almost arbitrarily, from the 
novel; just when it shows signs of disintegrating, she cuts to a new 
sequence, which not only starts well but has the effect of reaffirming 
the sequence we have just left, because the rigor of the change re 
affirms Miss Bute's grip of the work. This is doubly so because, 
dramatically and pictorially, Miss Bute has had virtually to invent 
every sequence. 

Subtitles are used. Nearly every word that the actors speak is 
flashed on the screen. Ordinarily this would be deplorable (except 
with foreign-language films, where it is still the best method devised 
for making them available to us). But Finnegans Wake is not an 
ordinary case, and here the practice is excellent. First, the composite 
words are impossible to understand through the ear alone. Second, 
these Joycean words are wonderful visual objects, enriching the 
picture visually, like objects in surrealistic art. 

The cast, mostly Irish, speak the composite language with such 
conviction that the reality of a million compressed dreams makes 
our heads appropriately swim. Martin J. Kelley as Finnegan etcetera, 
and Jane Reilly as Anna Livia etcetera are always effective. It is 



28 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

impossible to say that they play their roles well because there are 
no roles, but what they have to do, they do interestingly. 

The film's central achievement is that it touches myth, touches 
our old friend the collective unconscious. I heard someone say after 
seeing Stride's Ulysses that it would make a good introduction to the 
novel. The remark made my blood run cold because it seems both in 
evitable and dreadful: the film is a facile and ludicrous reduction. But 
Miss Bute's film, modest and flawed as it is, is in tune with the work 
it is about, and can even be seen as a small introductory suite to the 
teeming Joycean opera. 



Cool Hand Luke 

(.New American Review #2, January 1968) 

Cool Hand Luke, in which Paul Newman gives still another per 
formance so easily persuasive that he makes good acting look easy, 
is about a Southern chain gang; and it contrasts revealingly with the 
celebrated I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) . In the latter, 
Paul Muni played an innocent man unjustly convicted, who struggled 
against the horrors of the prison camp, was goaded to escape, and 
was at last condemned by society to be the criminal he had not been. 
Newman's character is guilty from the start and guilty of wanton 
silly destruction (destroying parking meters when drunk), not any 
kind of purposeful crime. He is not especially outraged by the harsh 
camp conditions. Unlike Muni's character, he has no goal of social 
reacceptance that he is fighting for. His escapes are self-willed 
escapades, not acts of heroism. And he gets himself killed out of 
stubborn cussedness, not for any cause or any practical reason. Thus 
the popular film arrives in the age of anti-idealism and of the acte 
gratuit. Camus's Absurdity on the quarter shell. 



CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS; HOW I WON THE WAR 29 

Closely Watched Trains; How I Won the War 

(New American Review #2, January 1968) 

Two comments on two important films. Both come from abroad 
and both are about the Second World War. 

Closely Watched Trains, a Czech film made in 1966, was directed 
by Jiri Menzel, who, like most young East European film directors, is 
a graduate of his country's film school; like many good directors out 
side the U.S., he is coauthor of his screenplay; like a surprising num 
ber of young foreign directors, he is also an actor. (He plays a small 
part in this film.) Menzel, born in 1938, is too young to have had 
much immediate reaction to the German occupation of Czechoslova 
kia, so his film, written with Bohumil Hrabal, is a view of immediately 
inherited history, rather than of experience. This combination of 
closeness and distance may be what gives him his cool style without 
loss of central compassion. 

The film is set in a rural railroad station. His protagonist is a late 
adolescent who goes to work in that station. The boy, played deli 
cately by Vaclav Neckar, is shy, eager, touchingly dignified. A pretty 
round-cheeked girl who works as a conductor is fond of him; a 
masterful philanderer who works in the station uncles him; the station- 
master benevolently tyrannizes him. He is grateful for the affection, 
the patronization, the discipline. The film is a small Entwicklungs- 
roman of his passage from his mother's sheltering home into the 
world. 

If I seem to have switched themes, that effect is the quintessence 
of Menzel's view. He concentrates fiercely on the daily life of this 
boy, his job, his ambitions, his unsuccessful first bedding with his 
girl, his worries about his manhood. It is only obliquely that the Nazi 
occupation enters the film and never, really, until the end does it come 
full center. Menzel is acknowledging that boys have ambitions, get 
erections, emulate their elders, indulge in daydreams, no matter what 
chief sits in the capital. He is also saying that, in an ancient country, 
there is an ancient schism between the peasantry and the govern 
ment, whether the government is monarchical, fascist, democratic, 
or socialist. The peasant's first duty is to survive, despite the efforts 
of government to hinder or help him. And the facts of war of what- 



30 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

ever particular war it happens to be at the moment are simply 
one more condition in his struggle. 

This theme has been treated before, notably in Two Women, the 
film by De Sica and Zavattini out of Moravia, but there a somewhat 
broader brush was used for a more traditional humanitarian approach. 
Menzel, much younger than the Italian partners, more tart and 
elliptical, focuses more thoroughly on the minutiae of daily existence, 
edits more brusquely, and indeed sees the whole grim era from a 
wry, sardonic angle. (The only inconsistent note of movie contriv 
ance is that, on the night before the youth is killed, Menzel allows 
him his first full sexual experience with the female member of the 
resistance who has unwittingly brought him his death warrant.) The 
boy goes to his death without any tinge of heroism; he is simply doing 
his neighborly peasant duty in the resistance as he did his duty in his 
railway job. Typical of the film's understatement is the moment of 
his death on the signal tower. We don't see him clutch himself as he 
is shot, no spasms. 

We hear the shot, then we see him sprawled on top of a freight 
car passing beneath the tower, being borne away. Everything gets 
borne away sooner or later, the film seems to say; the question is: 
Is this a sufficient reason not to care? By the very selection of his 
theme, Menzel seems to answer in the negative. 

Closely Watched Trains, a far superior work to the recent Czech 
successes The Shop on Main Street and Loves of a Blonde, is the 
best film I have seen from the new wave of Czech film making. 

How I Won the War is a British film directed by an American, 
Richard Lester. Lester's two early features, the Beatles films, were 
happy surprises (particularly the first) . It is rare that popular singers 
make a film that is something other than a crudely hemstitched series 
of singing acts. Lester "read" the Beatles' characters and rendered 
them in freehand sketches. His version of The Knack was one of the 
most completely cinematic translations of a play that I know. But 
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was a disaster 
because a vehicle for some utterly theatrical stars ran headlong into 
a director for whom the camera is the star. Still, even the least of 
these films had scintillating moments, and the best of them are fire 
works displays that spell out some secrets of our times. His new film 
is Lester at his very best. 

The script of How 1 Won the War was adapted by Charles Wood 



CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS; HOW I WON THE WAR 31 

from a novel by Patrick Ryan with even busier disregard for the 
original than Wood showed for the original of The Knack, which 
he also adapted. He has given Lester the requisite freedom to play 
to play, I repeat with the subject of World War II. The story deals 
with a goodhearted, muttonheaded young lieutenant who leads his 
troop through the war to their destruction. Only two survive himself 
and the troop coward yet, as he says with figurative truth, he won 
the war. 

The film begins in early 1945 at the Rhine, where the lieutenant 
is captured, and most of the film is flashback, from training days 
through the campaign in North Africa. But that is too formal a de 
scription; there are no orthodox flashbacks; there is only an unre 
mitting series of flashes back, forward to the "present," further 
forward to the future, into fantasy and extrapolation. There are two 
main story elements: in North Africa the troop is sent behind the 
German lines to prepare a cricket pitch so that an English general 
will be able to play after he advances; at the Rhine the lieutenant, 
in German hands, "buys" the Remagen bridge from a German ofiicer 
so that the Allies can speed ahead. These two elements are not funny, 
they are ridiculous. They are thus perfect for Lester's purpose. 

The film's first few moments are discouraging, as if Lester had 
sunk from Forum to Carry On, Lieutenant, and throughout there 
are additional jarring lapses. For instance, the lieutenant is thrown 
headfirst into sand, and the men gloat at his muffled cries for help. 
But most of the script, filigreed with good wiry dialogue, serves as 
a fine trampoline for Lester. These are numerous "plants" of mate 
rial visual and verbal to which later reference is made, too neatly 
modulated to be called running gags. There is a barrage of parodic 
transformations. For instance, a blimpish colonel gives the lieutenant 
a gung-ho speech in a dugout. When the camera pulls back at the 
end of his exhortation, the dugout suddenly is on a stage, and 
the curtain descends as the colonel finishes roundly. (Lester does not 
leave it there. The audience in that theater is sparse and the applause 
is slack.) A number of incidents are swiftly replayed in different 
settings, as in a spoof of Marienbad. The music yawns scoffingly: 
whenever we cut back to these bedraggled desert rats, we get a swell 
of grandiose Oriental goo on the soundtrack in Lawrence of Arabia 
style. And we are continually reminded that the whole thing is a film. 
When one of the men is hysterical, another soldier turns to the audi- 



32 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

ence and says angrily, "Would you be so kind as to take that camera 
away?" and we flash to a shot of two cockney biddies in a cinema 
watching the awful scene comfily. At the end, as the war is finish 
ing, two soldiers discuss what they are going to do next and think 
they may get work in a film that is going to be made about Vietnam. 
(There is a marked difference here from the "film-consciousness" of 
Persona. In the latter, Bergman reminds us that we and he are in 
volved in a film. But Lester tells us that we, he, and the actors know 
that it's a film.) 

Most of this film is in color, but there are many black-and-white 
sequences. The latter often look like newsreels, but Lester says that 
only eighty-two feet of the film are newsreel clips. He shot the troop's 
ludicrous exploits in color and the context of "real" war in black- 
and-white (sometimes tinted); as the troop moves into the "real" 
war, they also move into black-and-white. The conclusion, again 
ludicrous, is again in color. 

The dominant note is sounded in one flintily funny device. When 
ever a member of the troop is killed, he reappears, shortly after, clad 
entirely in one color, and he keeps going with the group. The first 
dead man comes back in green entirely green, including a green 
silk stocking over his face. He simply appears, is paid no special 
notice by the others, and carries on with his duties. We stiffen with 
apprehension at some heavy symbolic Unknown Soldier significance. 
Then the lieutenant addresses his men, including the green one, strides 
past them, turns back to the green man, and says, "Do you think you 
ought to report sick?" By the end there are pink and purple and 
other colored soldiers, all dead, all continuing as comic objects and 
objects of comedy. 

In this same heartless comic way Lester is also very touching. One 
man is badly wounded in the legs, is left lying in the sands, and starts 
talking deliriously to his wife. Then she walks up the dune in her 
London house dress no misty fade-in; she just walks up the slope 
mouthing BBC platitudes, then starts to comfort him as if he had 
sprained his ankle on the front step. "It hurts, Flo," he says quietly. 
"Run them under the cold tap, love," she says equally quietly. 

The actors are so good that they seem both to give excellent per 
formances and merely to be Lester's instruments. They include 
Michael Crawford, as the piping, eager lieutenant; Michael Hordern, 
as the impenetrable colonel; Roy Kinnear doing a comic version of 



CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS; HOW I WON THE WAR 33 

the fat Tommy he played in Lumet's The Hill; Jack MacGowran, 
as a former music hall comic whose "turns" keep turning up sur- 
realistically in the desert; John Lennon, a Beatle on leave, as a former 
Mosley man all coolly insane. Lee Montague, the corporal, is 
hopelessly sane. 

With the light-fingered help of his editor, John Victor Smith, Lester 
caroms the film off a series of colored bubble gum pictures of WW II 
battles cheap unreal icons of events that Lester makes more truly 
unreal. Yes, the film tells us that war is hell and that the most hellish 
thing about it is that fundamentally men love it. But Lester is telling 
it all from a particular point of view. When Lester's film is not (oc 
casionally) straining to be funny, it is genuinely not funny the kind 
of comedy at which one does not laugh, comedy that seems to take 
place in a cavern of ice where all the laughter has already been 
laughed, has been caught and frozen in glittering, frightening sta 
lactites. 

This is because Lester's film speaks from the very center of the 
Age of the Put-on. This is the heart of the sixties speaking about 
Dunkirk, Alamein, the murder of the Jews. No German officer would 
actually have said what Lester's German says about murdering Jews. 
(He is quite unperturbed neither triumphant nor vicious nor tor 
mented.) This film is the Mod generation's view of the war and of 
our mourning for it a view of history not as tragedy but as stupidity. 
To them, we of an older generation who are still involved with such 
matters as this century's evil and guilt are simply entangled, in an 
other way, in the same stupidity. And stupidity is funny; but this 
stupidity was so huge that it is deeper than ha-ha funny. The film's 
viewpoint is morally shocking, in the most serious sense, and is seri 
ously debatable; but it is neither immoral nor amoral, and it is bril 
liantly, scathingly put. 

In every way Lester and his generation have turned serveral pages 
of the calendar. They speak film language in a mode that is impos 
sible to those twenty or thirty years older, no matter how talented 
the latter may be. This may not be all to the good, but it is so. There 
is even a difference between Lester and some of his contemporaries 
in East Europe, including Menzel, who is in fact six years younger. 
A recent festival of Czech films in New York, as well as numerous 
Polish and Hungarian and Yugoslavian films that I have seen here 
and abroad, makes clear that young directors in those countries are 



34 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

hungry for new Western influences; that they use these new styles for 
sharp criticism of their societies, often with surprisingly direct poli 
tical reference. Via the route of disappointed Marxism rather than 
disappointed Christianity, they seem to be reaching some acceptance 
of man's inevitable and utter self-dependence. But Lester's attitude 
is not one of disappointment; the Age of the Put-on is an age of prag 
matism, cynical but adventurous. This mood has not yet been re 
flected in any film from Eastern Europe that I know. Menzel's WW II 
is not Lester's WW II, although both are different from my genera 
tion's. The young Easterners are still trying to make fresh films about 
life. Lester sees the very concepts of film and life as an infinite series 
of Chinese boxes. The Easterners are not quite sure what they believe 
or whether belief is still possible. Lester believes completely, in his 
camera. 



Elvira Madigan 

(December 2, 1967) 

A film of Beauty is a risk forever. The Swedish director Bo Widerberg 
has taken that risk quite deliberately in Elvira Madigan and has 
come off fairly well; but finally his film falls short not only through 
the inevitable tedium in a sense, the distraction of the incessantly 
beautiful, but also because of the subject on which all this beauty is 
heaped. 

The screenplay, by Widerberg, is based on fact, we are told. In 
1889 a young cavalry lieutenant, Count Sixten Sparre, leaves his wife 
and children to run ofi with a circus tightrope dancer named Elvira 
Madigan. They spend some idyllic weeks in the Swedish summer 
countryside, hiding out because he is a deserter. A brother officer 
finds Sixten and tries to recall him to duty and family, without suc 
cess. The lovers run out of money. Rather than return to the world 
and to separate lives, they agree to die. He shoots her and himself. 

Since this story is well known in Sweden, Widerberg's primary job 
was not one of narration but of satisfying previous romantic fantasies 



ELVIRA MADIGAN 35 

in the minds of the Swedish audience. He wanted to eliminate the 
element of suspense for all audiences by putting a note at the be 
ginning of the film synopsizing the facts of the story. (In America, 
at least, the distributor refused to oblige.) Forewarned would, to a 
degree, be forearmed, but even without the prefatory note, this is 
not a film with much narrative element; it is an exploration of a 
state of being and feeling which eventually dissipates. Widerberg, 
presumably having chosen the subject precisely for this reason, has 
concentrated on making the texture of that state as voluptuous as 
possible. His success with the texture is the success, and eventually 
the failure, of the film. 

Virtually every shot is exquisite. Even the scenes toward the end 
when the literally starving lovers are scrounging on all fours for mush 
rooms and herbs, when Elvira gets sick, are exquisitely photographed. 
Jorgen Persson's color camerawork has all the golden lights of summer, 
in noonday fields and deep glades; his interiors are grainy with wood 
and cool with linen. Skies are impossible, flowers float, the fruit and 
cheese and wine look better than they could ever taste. The faces of 
the lovers, Thommy Berggren and Pia Degermark, are out of Degas, 
and the hotel cook, Cleo Jensen, has the good-natured, gently lasci 
vious face of all the friends of lovers since lovers needed friends. 

Like endless slices of delicious cake, the shots fall before us, one 
after another. But the result is inevitable: the diet is too rich. It cloys. 
We become overly conscious of the industrious application of beauty, 
and we wonder whether, somewhere in the Swedish summer of 1889, 
there wasn't one unlovely prospect. 

This discomfort would probably have arisen in any case, but it is 
emphasized here for another reason. These two lovers are stupid. 
What is obvious to the viewer fairly soon dawns on these two slowly 
and surprisingly. What are they going to do when Sixten runs out of 
mone y the little money that he has with him? He cannot get a job; 
There is a brief conversation with a workman to underscore the fact 
that Sixten doesn't know any trade, and besides, he is a deserter, sub 
ject to arrest. Elvira makes one attempt to earn money as a dancer, 
but clearly that existence would be, for him, intolerable. When his 
small purse is empty, the idyll will be done. This seems to surprise 
them, along with her apparent surprise when she learns that her par 
ents are worried or his surprise when he learns that his wife is des- 



36 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

perately grieved. What did they expect to happen? How did they 
expect to live? 

It seems to me that there are two kinds of all-for-love lovers who 
are tragic: those who make plans to beat the world and who are frus 
trated (Romeo and Juliet) and those who know they are doomed 
and go ahead anyway because they prefer doom to separation (the 
pair in Mayerling) . But this pair have neither any plan nor any sense 
of what they are getting into. They are just dumb. Their fate has 
some pathos because they have been happy and they do end up dead, 
but our impatience with them spoils the intended tragic fall. All the 
breathtaking long shots across quiet meadows, the prospects through 
waving grass, seem wasted on two ninnies. 

None of this is the fault of the actors. Berggren and Miss Deger- 
mark are subtle and true. Widerberg has handled them discreetly, 
and he has edited his film surely. Technically, his only lapse is his 
use of music. He plonks down a chunk of the slow movement of 
Mozart's 21st piano concerto whenever he wants a little more poig 
nancy, beginning and ending the quotations abruptly. That music was 
lovely before Widerberg was born. It would be more of an achieve 
ment if he had commissioned the right composer, approved the right 
result, and mixed his sound track more gently. 



The Graduate 

(December 23, 1967) 

HAPPY news. Mike Nichols' second film, The Graduate, proves that 
he is a genuine film director one to be admired and concerned about. 
It also marks the screen debut, in the title role, of Dustin Hoffman, 
a young actor already known in the theater as an exceptional talent, 
who here increases his reputation. Also, after many months of prattle 
about the "new" American film (mostly occasioned by the overrated 
Bonnie and Clyde), The Graduate gives some substance to the con 
tention that American films are coming of age of our age. 

The screenplay, based on a novel by Charles Webb, was written 
by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. The latter, like Nichols, is 
an experienced satiric performer. (Henry appears in this picture as a 



THE GRADUATE 37 

hotel clerk.) The dialogue is sharp, hip without rupturing itself in 
the effort, often moving, and frequently funny except for a few ob 
trusive gag lines. The story is about a young cop-out who for well- 
dramatized reasons cops at least partially in again. 

Benjamin is a bright college graduate who returns to his wealthy 
parents' Hollywood home and flops on his bed, on the rubber raft 
in the pool. Politely and dispassionately, he declines the options thrust 
at him by barbecue pit society. The bored wife of his father's law 
partner seduces him. Benjamin is increasingly uncomfortable in the 
continuing affair, for moral reasons of an unpuritanical kind. (The 
bedroom scene in which Benjamin tries to get her to talk to him is a 
jewel.) The woman's daughter comes home from college, and against 
the mother's wishes, Benjamin takes her out. He falls in love with 
the girl which is predictable but entirely credible. He is black 
mailed into telling her about his affair with her mother and, in revul 
sion, the girl flees back to Berkeley. Benjamin follows, hangs about 
the campus, almost gets her to marry him, loses her (through her 
father's interference), pursues her, and finally gets her. For once, a 
happy ending makes us feel happy. 

To dispose at once of the tedious subject of frankness, I note that 
some of the language and bedroom details push that frontier (in 
American films) considerably ahead, but it is all so appropriate that 
it never has the slightest smack of daring, let alone opportunism. 
What is truly daring, and therefore refreshing, is the film's moral 
stance. Its acceptance of the fact that a young man might have an 
affair with a woman and still marry her daughter (a situation not 
exactly unheard of in America although not previously seen in Ameri 
can films) is part of the film's fundamental insistence: that life, to 
day, in our world, is not worth living unless one can prove it day by 
day, by values that ring true day by day. Moral attitudes, far from 
relaxing, are getting stricter and stricter, and many of the shoddy 
moralistic acceptances that dictated mindless actions for decades are 
now being fiercely questioned. Benjamin is neither a laggard nor a 
lecher; he is, in the healthiest sense, a moralist he wants to know 
the value of what he is doing. He does not rush into the affair with 
the mother out of any social rote of "scoring" any more than he avoids 
the daughter because he has slept with her mother out of any 
social rote of taboo. (In fact, although he is male and eventually suc 
cumbs, he sees the older woman's advances as a syndrome of a sus- 



38 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

pect society.) And the sexual dynamics of the story propels Benjamin 
past the sexual sphere; it forces him to assess and locate himself in 
every aspect. 

Sheerly in terms of moral revolution, all this will seem pretty com 
monplace to readers of contemporary American fiction. But we are 
dealing here with an art form that, because of its inescapable broad- 
based appeal, follows well behind the front lines of moral exploration. 
In America it follows less closely than in some other countries, not 
because American audiences are necessarily less sophisticated than 
others (although they are less sophisticated than, say, Swedish audi 
ences) but because the great expense of American production en 
courages a producer to cast the widest net possible. None of this is 
an apology for the film medium, it is a fact of the film's existence; 
one might as sensibly apologize for painting because it cannot be 
seen simultaneously by millions the way a film can. Thus the arrival 
of The Graduate can be viewed two ways. First, it is an index of 
moral change in a substantial segment of the American public, at least 
of an awakening of some doubts about past acceptances. Second, it 
is irrelevant that these changes are arriving in film a decade or two 
decades or a half century after the other arts, because their statement 
in film makes them intrinsically new and unique. If arts have textural 
differences and are not simply different envelopes for the same con 
tents, then the way in which The Graduate affects us makes it quite 
a different work from the original novel (which I have not read) and 
from all the dozens of novels of moral disruption and exploration in 
recent years. Recently an Italian literary critic deplored to me the 
adulation by young people of films, saying that the "messages" they 
get from Bergman and Antonioni and Godard had been stated by 
the novel and even the drama thirty or forty years ago. I tried, un 
successfully, to point out that this is not really true: that if art as art 
has any validity at all, then the film's peculiar sensory avenues were 
giving those "old" insights a presence they could not otherwise have. 
This brings us to the central artist of this enterprise, Mike Nichols. 
In his first picture, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Nichols was 
shackled by a famous play and by the two powerhouse stars of our 
time; but considering these handicaps, he did a creditable job, par 
ticularly with his actors. In The Graduate, uninhibited by the need 
to reproduce a Broadway hit and with freedom to select his cast, he 



THE GRADUATE 39 

has moved fully into film. He is perceptive, imaginative, witty; he has 
a shrewd eye, both for beauty and for visual comment; he knows how 
to compose and to juxtapose; he has an innate sense of the mani 
fold ways in which film can be better than he is and therefore how 
good he can be through it including the powers of expansion and 
ellipsis. 

From the very first moment, Nichols sets the key. We see Ben 
jamin's face large and absolutely alone. The camera pulls back, we 
see that he is in an airliner and a voice tells us that it is approaching 
Los Angeles; but Benjamin has been set for us as alone. We follow 
him through the air terminal, and he seems just as completely, even 
comfortably, isolated in the crowd as he does later, in a scuba suit 
at the bottom of his family's swimming pool, when he is huddling 
contentedly in an underwater corner while his twenty-first birthday 
party is being bulled along by his father up above. 

Nichols understands sound. The device of overlapping is some 
what overused (beginning the dialogue of the next scene under the 
end of the present scene), but in general this effect adds to the disso 
lution of clock time, creating a more subjective time. Nichols' use of 
nonverbal sound (something like Antonioni's) does a good deal to 
fix subliminally the cultural locus. For instance, a jet plane swooshes 
overhead unremarked as the married woman first invites Ben 
jamin into her house. 

In Virginia Woolf I thought I saw some influence of Kurosawa; 
I think so again here, particularly in such sequences as Benjamin's 
welcome home party where the camera keeps close to Benjamin, 
panning with him as he weaves through the crowd, moving to another 
face only when Benjamin encounters it, as if Benjamin's attention 
controlled the camera's. As with Kurosawa, the effect is balletic; it 
seeks out quintessential rhythms in commonplace actions. 

On the negative side, I disliked Nichols' recurrent affection for 
the splatter of headlights and sunspots on his lens; and his hang-up 
with a slightly heavy Godardian irony through objects. (The camera 
holds on a third-rate painting of a clown after the mistress walks out 
of the shot. When the girl leaves Benjamin in front of the monkey 
cage at the San Francisco zoo, the camera, too luckily, catches the 
sign on the cage: Do Not Tease.) And a couple of times Nichols puts 
his camera in places that merely make us aware of his cleverness in 



40 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

putting it there: inside the scuba helmet, inside an empty hotel room 
closet looking past the hangers. 

But the influences I have cited (there are others) only show that 
Nichols is alive, hungry, properly ambitious; the defects only show 
that he is not yet entirely sure of himself. Together, these matters 
show him still feeling his way toward a whole style of his own. What 
is important is his extraordinary basic talent: humane, deft, exuber 
ant. And I want to make much of his ability to direct actors, a factor 
generally overlooked in appraising film directors. (Some famous di 
rectors Hitchcock, for example can do little with actors. They get 
what the actor can supply on his own. Sometimes again like Hitch 
cock these directors seem not even aware of bad performances.) 
He has helped Anne Bancroft to a quiet, strong portrayal of the 
mistress, bitter and pitiful. With acuteness he has cast Elizabeth 
Wilson, a sensitive comedienne, as Benjamin's mother. From the very 
pretty Katharine Ross, Benjamin's girl, Nichols has got a perform 
ance of sweetness, dignity, and a compassion that is simply engulfing. 
Only William Daniels, as Ben's father, made me a bit uneasy. His 
WASP caricature (he did a younger version in Two for the Road) is 
already becoming a staple item. 

In the leading role, Nichols had the sense and the courage to cast 
Dustin Hoffman, unknown (to the screen) and unhandsome. Hoff 
man's face in itself is a proof of change in American films; it is hard 
to imagine him in leading roles a decade ago. How unimportant, 
how interesting this quickly becomes, because Hoffman is one of the 
best actors of his generation, subtle, vital, and accurate. Certainly 
he is the best American film comedian since Jack Lemmon, and, as 
theatergoers know, he has a much wider range than Lemmon. (For 
instance, he was fine as a crabby, fortyish, nineteenth-century Rus 
sian clerk in Ronald Ribman's play Journey of the Fifth Horse.) 

With tact and lovely understanding, Nichols and Hoffman and Miss 
Ross all three show us how this boy and girl fall into a new kind 
of love: a love based on recognition of identical loneliness of their 
side of a generational gap, a gap which never mind how sillily it 
is often exploited in politics and pop culture irrefutably exists. 
When her father is, understandably, enraged at the news of his wife's 
affair with his prospective son-in-law and hustles the girl off into 
another marriage, Benjamin's almost insane refusal to let her go is 



THE GRADUATE 41 

his refusal to let go of the one reality he has found in a world that 
otherwise exists behind a pane of glass. The cinema metaphors of 
the chase after the girl the endless driving, the jumping in and out 
of his sports car, even his eventual running out of gas have per 
haps too much slapstick about them; they make the film rise too close 
to the surface of mere physicality; but at least the urgency never 
flags. At the wedding, when he finds it and of course it is in an ultra 
modern church there is a dubious hint of crucifixion as Benjamin 
flings his outspread arms against the (literal) pane of glass that sep 
arates him from life (the girl) ; but this is redeemed a minute later 
when, with the girl, he grabs a large cross, swings it savagely to stave 
off pursuers, then jams it through the handles of the front doors to 
lock the crowd in behind them. 

The pair jump onto a passing bus (she in her wedding dress still) 
and sit in the back. The aged, uncomprehending passengers turn and 
stare at them. (One last reminder! of Lester's old-folks chorus in 
The Knack.) Benjamin and his girl sit next to each other, breathing 
hard, not even laughing, just happy. Nothing is solved none of the 
things that bother Benjamin by the fact of their being together; but, 
for him, nothing would be worth solving without her. We know that, 
and she knows that, and all of us feel very, very good. The chase and 
the last-minute rescue (just after the ceremony is finished) are con 
trivances, but they are contrivances tending toward truth, not falsity, 
which may be one definition of good art. 

Paul Simon has written rock songs for the film, sung by Simon 
and Garfunkel, and as in many rock songs, these lyrics deal easily 
with such matters as God, Angst, the "sound of silence," and social 
revision. But they are typical of the musical environment in which 
this boy and girl live. 

Some elements of slickness and shininess in this wide-screen color 
film are disturbing. But despite them, despite the evident influences 
and defects, the picture bears the imprint of a man, a whole man, 
warts and all: which is a very different imprint from that of many of 
Nichols' highly praised, cagy, compromised American contempo 
raries. All the talents involved in The Graduate make it soar brightly 
above its shortcomings and, for reasons given, make it a milestone 
in American film history. Milestones do not guarantee that every 
thing after them will be better; still they are ineradicable. 



42 FIGURES OF LIGHT 



(February 10, 1968) 

DOESN'T the film split in half? This is the recurrent question in a 
number of letters about The Graduate although almost all cor 
respondents start by saying they enjoyed it! I have now seen it again 
and have read the novel by Charles Webb on which it is based, and 
some further comment seems in order. 

I like what I liked in the film even more, but now, having read the 
original, I can see a paradox about its shortcomings. (Many of which 
were noted in my review.) Besides the fact that a great deal of Webb's 
good dialogue is used in the screenplay, the structure of the first two- 
thirds of his book until Benjamin goes to Berkeley is more or 
less the structure of the film. The longest scene in the picture the 
one in which Benjamin tries to get his mistress to talk to him is 
taken almost intact from the book. But Mike Nichols and his screen 
writers rightly sensed that the last third of the book bogged down in a 
series of discussions, that the novel's device for Benjamin's finding the 
place of Elaine's wedding was not only mechanical but visually sterile, 
and that in general this last third had to be both compressed and 
heightened. In reaction to the novel's weaknesses, they devised a 
conclusion that has weaknesses of its own. But there is a vast differ 
ence between weakness and compromise. 

Benjamin does not change, in my view, from the hero of a serious 
comedy about a frustrated youth to the hero of a glossy romance; 
he changes as Benjamin. It is the difference between the women in 
his life that changes him. Being the person he is, he could not have 
been assured with Mrs. Robinson any more than he could have been 
ridiculous and uncommanding with Elaine. We can actually see the 
change happen the scene with Elaine at the hamburger joint where 
he puts up the top of the car, closes the windows, and talks. Talks 
for the first time in the film. Those who insist that Mrs. Robinson's 
Benjamin should be the same as Elaine's Benjamin are denying the 
effect of love particularly its effect on Benjamin, to whom it is not 
only joy but escape from the nullity of his affair and the impending 
nullity of himself. 

There is even a cinematic hint early in the picture of the change 
that is to come. Our first glimpse of Mrs. Robinson's nudity is a re 
flection in the glass covering her daughter's portrait. 



THE GRADUATE 43 

In character and in moral focus the film does not split, but there 
is a fundamental weakness in the novel which the film tries, not quite 
successfully, to escape. The pivot of action shifts, after the story 
goes to Berkeley, from Benjamin to Elaine. From then on, he knows 
what he wants; it is she who has to work through an internal crisis. 
It was Nichols' job to dramatize this crisis without abandoning his 
protagonist, to show the girl adjusting to the shocking fact of Ben 
jamin's affair with her mother, and he had to show it with, so to 
speak, only a series of visits by the girl to the picture. To make it 
worse, the environment of the conventional campus romantic com 
edy works against the seriousness of the material. The library, the 
quad, the college corridor have to be overcome, in a sense. Nichols 
never lets up his pressure on what he feels the film is about, but the 
obliqueness of the action and the associative drawbacks of the locale 
never quite cease to be difficulties. And, as I noted, the final chase 
though well done gets thin. 

But I think that, with some viewers, Nichols also suffers for his 
virtues. He has played to his strength, which is comedy; with all its 
touching moments and its essential seriousness, this is a very funny 
picture. To some viewers, a comedy about a young man and his 
father's partner's wife immediately seems adventurous; a comedy 
about a young man and a girl automatically gets shoved into a pigeon 
hole. This latter derogation seems to me unjust. We have only to 
remember (and to me it is unforgettable) that what is separating 
these young lovers is not a broken date or a trivial quarrel but a deep 
taboo in our society. For me, the end proof of the picture's depth 
is the climax in the church, with Dustin Hoffman (even more moving 
the second time I saw him) screaming the girl's name from behind 
the glass wall. A light romance? That is a naked, last cry to the girl to 
free herself of the meaningless taboo, to join him in trying to find 
some possible new truth. 

Yes, there are weaknesses. Yes, there are some really egregious 
gags. ("Are you looking for an affair?" the hotel clerk asks the con 
fused Benjamin in the lobby.) But in cinematic skill, in intent, in sheer 
connection with us, The Graduate is, if I may repeat it, a milestone 
in American film history. 

POSTSCRIPT. In an interview with Joseph Gelmis (The Film Director 
as Superstar, Doubleday, 1970), Nichols apparently refers to my 



44 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

remarks about Kurosawa's influence on him and says that he never 
saw a Kurosawa film until after he finished The Graduate. Mea culpa, 
but ... 

Attribution is always risky but always tempting, particularly when 
one admires an artist and is trying to "place" him as part of that 
admiration. Nichols also says, "I've been incredibly influenced but 
you can't tell me by whom. I defy you to tell me by whom." I ac 
cepted the challenge in advance and was wrong. Directors other than 
Kurosawa have used a traveling camera to track one face to another, 
and presumably Nichols has seen the device before. But Kurosawa 
uses it with a dramatic tension that is like the order of planets in 
space, bound and orbited by gravitational pulls. Nichols got some 
of the same feeling without having seen Kurosawa's work; even more 
praise to him, then. (But he goes on to say that George Stevens has 
been "very important" to him. Stevens, according to Donald Richie, 
had also been important to Kurosawa! ) 

After the first of my two reviews appeared, Charles Webb, the 
author of the novel, wrote and asked me to read his book, which I 
did. After the second review appeared, Webb wrote a letter to The 
New Republic disagreeing with my view of the film's "moral stance" 
and saying that his greatest objection to the film was that it fails 
to take such a stance. He based this objection on the fact that, in his 
novel, Benjamin arrives at the church in time to prevent the wedding, 
and in the film he arrives after the ceremony. In reply, I said that I 
had thought at first that Webb's letter was a put-on, possibly by 
Elaine May; that I didn't understand how the author of this book 
could equate morality with marriage licenses; and that in structural 
terms Nichols had tried to improve some of the novel's weaknesses. 
"Nichols' solution is imperfect, but at least it avoids the destructive 
cliche of having Benjamin get there Just in Time." 

However, there is one point in the novel that I wish had been 
explicit in the film. Webb makes sure we know that Benjamin is 
not a virgin when he goes to the hotel room with Mrs. Robinson. I 
had assumed that Benjamin was not "intact" simply because of his 
age and kind, but it seems that there were many who did not assume 
it, and this made a great difference in their view of the first hotel 
scene. If that is a scene about a novice, it is a conventional skit about 
initiation; if he is not a novice, then it is about the distress of a young 
man torn between shock after all, this woman probably wheeled 



THE GRADUATE 45 

him in his baby carriage! and his sexual urges. The conflict be 
tween social conventions and (surrogate) Oedipal drives is the source 
of a deeper comedy. 

There were other considerable charges against the picture. Some 
complained that neither Benjamin nor his parents seem aware that 
his behavior is not exactly unusual; there is no reference by Cali 
fornia parents to "Berkeley" behavior or dropouts or hippies. I 
agree that this is an omission and that it touches the credibility of 
the environment. Others objected that there was no mention of the 
Vietnam war; but if there had been "mention" of it, in a film about 
problems that will persist even if the Vietnam war ever ends, the 
film would have been accused of tokenism. Still others said that 
Benjamin was too "straight," that a film about a radical would have 
been more significant. On this I certainly disagree: what interested 
me in Benjamin was precisely that he is "straight" and that it doesn't 
protect him, the bottom falls out for him anyway. There would have 
been less drama, and not necessarily any more social truth, in having 
these events occur to a member of the SDS. And others have said 
that the film is not about a real change but about a little rebellious 
excursion that ends with happy mating and conformity. I don't find 
this supported in the picture. There is a happy ending, but, as noted, 
it is a qualified one: none of the things that bother Benjamin is solved 
by getting the girl, "but, for him, nothing would be worth solving 
without her." (In the Gelmis interview, Nichols says, ". . . When 
I saw those rushes [of the ending] I thought: That's the end of the 
picture. They don't know what the hell to do, or to think, or to say 
to each other.' ") Indeed the film can be seen as testament to the 
young generation's belief amply manifested all around us in the 
value of romantic love in an arid world. 

Anyway, argument about the film's pertinence is quite academic. 
Box office receipts neither prove nor disprove anything about quality, 
but they prove something about immediacy; and the financial facts 
about The Graduate are staggering. Variety of January 7, 1970, lists 
"All-time Box-office Champs," rated by distributors' receipts from 
the United States and Canada. As of that date, the first and second 
pictures on the list were The Sound of Music and Gone with the 
Wind, with $72 and $71 million respectively. Third was The Grad 
uate, with $43 million. Third place in only two years compared with 
the longer periods that the first two have been in release. Consider, 



46 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

too which even those who dislike The Graduate probably would 
not deny the difference in ambition between this film and the only 
two films in history to attract bigger audiences, and then the impact 
of Nichols' picture becomes all the more staggering. In the Saturday 
Review article referred to on page 7, Larry Cohen wrote: "If Blow-up 
was instrumental in attracting young people to film, the equivalent 
American landmark was Mike Nichols' The Graduate" 

Finally, there was some objection to my remarks about Hitchcock 
and his tolerance of bad acting. Not everyone will agree, although 
I have come to do so lately, with Parker Tyler's description of Hitch 
cock as "a bigtime director of film kitsch," but as for his lack of rigor 
with actors, think only of Tippi Hedren in The Birds and Mamie and 
almost all the principals in Topaz. 



The Stranger 

(January 13, 1968) 

THE sun the Algerian sun was an important part of Albert Ca- 
mus's early being. It runs all through the first volume of his Notebooks. 
("The sun on the quays . . . and the port leaping with light.") And 
it is integral to his first novel, The Stranger: the crucial moment of 
murder occurs when Meursault is in the grip of that same Algerian 
sun. Luchino Visconti has understood this essential thematic ele 
ment perfectly. In his color film of The Stranger, apparently shot on 
location, Visconti has aimed to make the sun a benefaction, an op 
pression, an ambience. One of the world's master cinematographers, 
Giuseppe Rotunno, who worked on such previous Visconti pictures 
as The Leopard, has helped. The result is a film from which the sun 
is figuratively never absent; shadows, twilights, nights seem temporary 
respite from the "leaping light." 

This visual realization of the atmosphere is only the beginning of 
the film's achievements. Visconti has got a faithful screenplay from 
Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Georges Conchon, and Emmanuel Robles. 
However, to say that the script is faithful to Camus is both to praise 
it and to delimit it. It does the most, dramatically and cinematically, 



THE STRANGER 47 

that is possible with the book, without any substantive alteration 
(which would have been intolerable), yet its fidelity gives it the 
same level dramatic plane as that of films about Jesus. Such films, 
even one so genuine as Pasolini's, always rise to a plateau and stay 
on it because there is no hero. A hero must have some illusions and 
must struggle as a result of them. Jesus is not deceived and will not 
struggle. So with Meursault. 

This gives Visconti's film, like Camus's novel, a quality of observa 
tion and patience. The drama is not overt; it is internal, the inevitable 
abrasion between the protagonist's inner state and the world's pro 
tocol. But the film is at a disadvantage in comparison with the novel 
because of one central matter of technique: Camus evokes a per 
vasive somnambulistic quality by putting a good deal of Meursault's 
dialogue into indirect discourse. One example among dozens: 

"Why," [the chaplain] asked, "don't you let me come to see you?" 
I explained that I didn't believe in God. 
"Are you really so sure of that?" 

I said I saw no point in troubling my head about the matter; whether 
I believed or didn't was, to my mind, a question of little importance. 

This technique is impossible in film. If Meursault's indirect answers 
were put on the soundtrack as narration, we would see his lips move 
as he replied. Or even if his face were not shown, the flip-flop from 
the chaplain's direct speech to Meursault's narrated replies would 
have the opposite of the intended effect. It would destroy the tex 
ture of the scene, whereas, in the novel, the device creates texture 
suspended, dreamlike, /z/elike. 

But facing the book's difficulties and intent on rendering it authen 
tically, Visconti has made a beautiful, discreet, perceptive film of this 
epochal work of the twentieth-century Western world. Pictures, in the 
specific sense, have never been difficult for him; on the contrary, he 
has tended to indulge himself by slapping pictures all over our eye 
balls in films like The Leopard and Sandra. Here he has used his 
pictorial sense, rather than spewed it. There are plenty of extraor 
dinary things to look at: the skylighted air of the mortuary in an 
old folks' home, the Algerian streets and rooms (with the smell al 
most visible), the sensual blending of sea and sun. And when Meur 
sault is in his cell, Visconti (with Rotunno) increases the isolation by 



48 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

increasingly isolating the prisoner's countenance until only his face is 
embodied out of the dark. But never is the picture merely pretty. 
Visconti was obviously deeply committed to Camus, and all his pre 
viously obtrusive virtuosity is here totally at Camus's service. 

Excellently as Visconti has worked, he could not have accom 
plished what he has done without the art of Marcello Mastroianni, as 
Meursault. There is a paradox here because, in this French-language 
film, Mastroianni's lines were dubbed by another actor. The dubbing 
is well done, and the effect is not as jarring as it migjit otherwise have 
been particularly because most of Meursault's dialogue is flat, 
meagerly responsive. The performance is made in Mastroianni's 
face as he watches from his window on a long Sunday, as he watches 
his trial from the witness stand, as he watches his death approach 
him hi his cell. Mastroianni was a Visconti discovery; I first saw him 
as Biff in Visconti's production of Death of a Salesman in Rome. 
Lately he has been walking through some pseudo-Italian Italian 
comedies. Here, put to the test in a fine role by his mentor (at his 
best), Mastroianni shows us one kind of film acting at its purest: 
mind and feeling revealed, rather than conveyed, by utmost imag 
ination and simplicity. 

Anna Karina, as his girl, responds to Visconti the way she rarely 
responds to her previous chief employer, Jean-Luc Godard, and 
gives a live, sympathetic performance. Georges Wilson, Bernard Blier, 
and Georges Geret (as the pimp friend who starts all the trouble) are 
exactly right. 

It is a truism that the better a novel, the harder it is to make a good 
film of it. Visconti's version of The Stranger is not the exception that 
proves the rule. Some film adaptations are superior to their originals, 
which of course this one could not be; some are more or less the 
equivalent of their originals, which this is not. But this is the expres 
sion, through their art, by some fine film artists of their sympathy and 
love for Camus's great book. 



WILD 90 49 
Wild 90 

(February 3, 1968) 

DESPITE the slovenliness and arrogance in his recent books, Norman 
Mailer has still managed to make clear that there is importance and 
pertinence in him. No matter how childishly or aggressively or vul 
garly he behaved on paper, he has had an innate literary power that 
he could not shake off. He has no such power as film maker, film edi 
tor, or actor. His film Wild 90, in which he stars, has only the slovenli 
ness and arrogance. 

I cannot say that Mailer was drunk the whole time he was on 
camera. I do not know it for fact; perhaps it is only colored water 
that he keeps swilling. I can only hope that he -was drunk. As for 
Mailer the editor and director, I hope that he was even drunker. Did 
he really see those scenes later possibly when sober and want to 
preserve them? It is a frightening thought to anyone who often ad 
mired the past Mailer. 

Three men one of them Mailer pretend to be gangsters hiding 
out in a warehouse. From time to time they are visited: by the wife of 
one, by a boxer and his German shepherd, by Mailer's wife. Most of 
the conversation for ninety minutes (hence the title) is improvised, 
obscene, fake gangster talk. It is not like Michael McClure's gutter 
language in The Beard, which acted like a wire brush on some of our 
pretenses. This film's language degrades obscenity. 

There will be sages, of film and general culture, to tell us what this 
picture means. In my view, it is a conversation in a treehouse or a 
shanty by three boys who are hiding out from their mothers and are 
cramming all the dirty words they can think of into the ninety minutes 
before Mother finds them. Along with the incessant "daring" talk, 
they go bang-bang with empty guns, they punch chairs, they make 
believe they are tough gangsters, and so on. All of us have done it, 
but most of us have either got rid of it or have it reasonably under 
control by about the age of fifteen. 

One of the sad aspects of Mailer's power play in our culture (de 
scribed as such by Norman Podhoretz) is that it has brought him 
sycophants who would presumably print his laundry lists. One of 
the sad aspects of the generally happy rise of the film is that it gives 



50 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

facility (in two senses) to this kind of self-abuse of the ego, gives 
it a spurious importance by making it physically permanent. This is 
no agonized soul, talcing refuge in outlaw fantasy or juvenile dreams 
as a fortress against existential torment. This is a pampered, pos 
sibly drunken little king, taking his bitter little pleasure in making 
his courtiers hop. The courtiers here are the other players, the camera 
man, the sound man, everyone connected with the enterprise who 
toadies to him. They all seem to me, in this regard, despicable. But 
Mailer . . . there is pure pathos. In one scene he gets down on his 
hands and knees and outbarks the German shepherd. That Mailer 
did it in front of a camera, that he wanted to preserve it, that he 
wanted to show it in public well, to some it may be an act of utter 
most liberation. To me it is an occasion for mourning. 



China Is Near 

(February 3, 1968) 

MARCO Bellocchio is an Italian director, now twenty-eight, whose 
second film is his first to get American theatrical release. China Is 
Near is not about East and West; the title is a Communist slogan 
(the Italian wordplay is lost in English La Cina e Vicina) which, 
during the film, is painted on Socialist Party headquarters. Never 
theless the picture is involved with two worlds of art. It sets up a 
tension between symmetry and asymmetry and between the elements 
of form and of style. Like many of the world's young film makers, 
Bellocchio has devoured recent cinema developments, particularly 
French ones; but in this picture the quick-darting camera of impulse, 
the swift editing that tries to realign logic, the new heel kicking about 
the fact of film making itself all these have been applied to a story 
that might have been contrived by Goldoni. The effect is something 
like swooping back and forth in a superjet over a formal eighteenth- 
century garden, piecing the landscape together in free form bits. A 
good deal of the time it is interesting, but Bellocchio-Goldoni finally 
has to face down Bellocchio-Godard and beat him. 

A wealthy middle-aged brother and sister live in a large house in 
central Italy. (From a license plate, I take the locale to be Bologna 



CHINA IS NEAR 51 

and environs, which also fits the radical politics of the story.) He is 
a professor who is asked to run for a minor office by the local Social 
ists. They assign a campaign manager to him; and this manager is 
the secret lover of the professor's secretary, with whom the older man 
is hopelessly infatuated. The professor's well-ripened sister soon gets 
the manager into her own bed, and when the secretary discovers this, 
she gives herself, in revenge, to the importuning professor. The 
comedy is always oblique and dry never dryer than the scene, 
early one morning, when the manager leaves the sister's bed as the 
secretary leaves the professor's bed, and these two themselves 
lovers finish dressing in the hall and steal away together out of the 
house. Both of the women get pregnant and eventually resign them 
selves to having their babies. The two couples will apparently live 
together; what their sex life will be in that house is anyone's humid 
conjecture. But could any story, or conclusion, be morally neater, 
more thoroughly based in cheery eighteenth-century rationalism? 

There is also a fifth prominent character the younger brother 
of the wealthy pair, a supersober communist who moves around the 
quadrilateral gavotte like a mundane Savonarola. The best character 
touch in the film is that this boy himself is satirized, rather than 
being used as a heavy truth-symbol posed against falsities. 

Presumably because of his youth, Bellocchio seems to have felt 
overobligated to employ up-to-the-moment methods. They mislead 
us, they make us expect a different kind of film. When a nice old 
plotty comedy begins to be visible, we feel a little irritation with the 
somewhat irrelevant Nouvelle Vaguery. An older director Monicelli, 
Comencini, or the earlier De Sica would have gone straight for the 
story and wrung the last drop of juice out of it. Bellocchio's approach 
produces some longueurs. At its most germane, it makes comments 
that would be more difficult in traditional style: telling us that the 
truth and foolishness of human feelings are perennial; that politics 
even radical politics shares both the truth and the foolishness, 
perennially. At its most disjunctive, the style seems just cinematically 
hip. 

I saw Bellocchio's first picture, Fist in His Pocket, at the New York 
Film Festival a few years ago, but will withhold comment until its 
public release, which is due soon. But I cannot withhold comment 
on the aptness of the director's name. Even an Italian Dickens would 
not dare to call a film director Mr. Beautiful Eye. 



52 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Love Affair 

(February 17, 1968) 

INTERESTING times in the film world. As I've noted here, the exten 
sions in film language, in film imagination, that appeared in France 
during the last ten years have been gobbled up hungrily by many 
young film makers around the world. There are historical reasons why 
these extensions were inevitable (and they are not all happy; one of 
them is a kind of intellectual and artistic sloth) ; but a new vocabulary 
can hardly be good or bad in itself, everything depends on its use. 
The chief shadow in this new school has been the speed with which 
the new liberation has in some cases become imitation, even parody. 
This is the risk that every innovator faces. Imagine Hemingway read 
ing Alfred Hayes. Imagine Godard seeing Loach's Poor Cow. What 
ever the faults of the originator, he is not responsible for his mimics. 

But some young directors have done better than imitate, even skill 
fully; they have absorbed the new language as part of their mother 
tongues, as a chance to be more fully themselves. I have seen none 
of whom this is more true than a young Yugoslav named Dusan 
Makavejev, who has written and directed Love Affair, or The Case 
of the Missing Switchboard Operator. This is his second feature film; 
the first has not yet been publicly released here. In Love Affair the 
New Wave influences have been thoroughly assimilated and are in 
tegral to the director's material, something I did not feel in China 
Is Near by the admittedly gifted Bellocchio. 

Style is content here. What is the story? Isabela, a switchboard 
operator in Belgrade, meets a sanitation inspector named Ahmed. 
They have an affair. She loves him, but she is sexually ductile. While 
he is away for a month, she is seduced by a postman and becomes 
pregnant. As an act of atonement, she lets Ahmed think it is his 
child but that she doesn't want it He is revolted and leaves. She 
pursues him, finds him drunk (he is not a habitual drinker), and 
pleads with him. In shaking her off, he accidentally kills her 
knocks her into a deep underground well. He gets drunker, collapses, 
and is soon found by the police. 

What a trite and tritely sordid story. What a charming, light, 



LOVE AFFAIR 53 

poignant, and socially illuminating film. Makavejev has sketched in 
a good deal about life in Belgrade today, has invested his little film 
with a highly personal view of fate and fate's ludicrousness, and has 
directed so well that the texture itself gives us a sensual pleasure. 

The picture opens with an amiable old sexologist lecturing us, as 
he might do on educational television, about sexual customs and at 
titudes (except that some of the drawings we see would burn out our 
TV tubes). The old man reappears occasionally through the film, 
never saying anything directly relevant to it. He supplies a note of 
frankness about sex which is quaintly old-fashioned against the reali 
ties for which mere frankness is insufficient. 

The chronicle of the lovers, as such, is handled with fine astrin- 
gency. For example, we never even see them meet. She is out walking 
with a girl friend, then we see these two girls crossing the street with 
a man whom presumably they have chatted with while waiting for 
a traffic light. One appeal of this picture is the "presumably": it is 
easy and pleasant to fill in the gaps of omitted detail. The touches 
of characterization and their social relevance are supplied with 
similar casualness. Ahmed, to judge by his name, is one of Yugo 
slavia's numerous Mohammedans, therefore a man who takes fidelity 
very seriously; he is, moreover, a very serious communist and therefore 
additionally puritanical. Isabela is a foreigner, a Hungarian, and 
always conscious of it: she sings Hungarian songs, bakes a strudel, 
talks about her "Hungarian" need for sex. The fact that Makavejev 
made his heroine a Hungarian may be his comment on the Yugoslav 
attitude toward Hungarian views of the seriousness of communist 
life. 

Structurally the director has folded the story back on itself so as 
to thicken its texture. No sooner have we met the pair than we flash 
forward to the police fishing the girl's body out of the well into which 
she falls at the end; and all through the film there are intercut se 
quences of her autopsy, as well as a criminologist's lecture on the 
nature of murder. Before we see the girl naked for love, we have 
seen her naked on the autopsy table. Before we see her black cat stroll 
lazily over her rounded white bottom (a lovely picture), we have 
seen the autopsy instruments lined up on her naked legs. The first 
intercut of the death sequences is puzzling; then we understand that a 
linear event has been sliced and the sections intertwined so that we 



54 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

could watch all of it, figuratively, at the same time. The effect is not 
only of the multiplaned simultaneity that has been a part of modern 
art since Picasso, but a reminder of the fragility of life, and, more, 
of the fragility of life patterns. And implicit in this is a comment on 
the final irrelevance of political systems to some matters of biology 
and the psyche. 

Makavejev's use of cinematic resource is effervescent but careful. 
There is a shot of the pair at a resort hotel he on a little balcony, 
she opening a window next to him that is as exquisite as the window- 
opening scene in the morning sun in Jules and Jim. While Isabela is 
rolling the strudel dough, an operation rich with five hundred years 
of Middle European social history, the sound track gives us the 
Triumphal March from Aida. When the postman is working her over 
at the switchboard and she begins to feel her glands moisten, we 
suddenly cut to some films of nude tableaux vivants, c. 1915, in 
which a moustached gentleman and an ample lady pose on a revolving 
turntable as Adam and Eve, etc. a touch that both conveys and 
mocks lubricity. When Ahmed gets drunk, Makavejev follows him 
with a hand-held camera; it is the only time he uses this device and 
thus there is some sense in it, for once. The very last shot in the film, 
after Ahmed's arrest, is of the front of the resort hotel where once 
they had been happy, as we hear an East German Party song on the 
sound track a record that had been sent Ahmed by some friends and 
that he had played there on their "honeymoon." The contrast be 
tween his rigidity and her fluidity, of which this last moment reminds 
us, in a strange way make us feel more confident. If there are ele 
ments in human behavior that can never be controlled or predicted, 
then we can acknowledge them and not be depressed by them. Ahmed 
will still be murdering Isabela in any society we can dream of; so we 
can just take that for granted and get on about our business of revision 
or revolution or research or relaxation, whatever our bent happens 
to be. 

A Hungarian actress named Eva Ras, plain of face and enchanting 
of smile, is completely winning as Isabela. It is quite pertinent to this 
film of contradictions that her body is surprisingly beautiful when 
she undresses. Ahmed is played with fit stolidity by Slobodan Ali- 
grudic, a name I have not invented. It is also relevant that this film 
runs only seventy minutes. Many "new" films seem interminable 
endless wandering through streets, pointless conversations, pauses 



TELL ME LIES 55 

meant to be pregnant that are usually virgin. Makavejev has made 
every second of his seventy minutes count. The result is optimal: his 
film is never tedious and yet it is long enough to be satisfying. 



Tell Me Lies 

(March 2, 1968} 

PETER Brook's film against the Vietnam war is the wrong film at the 
right time. The filth of outrageous government falsehood, of respon 
sibility for pointless death and destruction is piling up in America 
in a way that makes this country seem a very great deal worse than 
New York during the garbagemen's strike. If we are to have a big 
Eastmancolor picture on this subject now, it ought in heaven's sweet 
name to be one that heightens and thrusts forward all possible 
American opposition to the war. Which means, for the most pragmatic 
reasons, not for dainty esthetic ones, that it ought to be a good film. 
Tell Me Lies is not. 

A couple of years ago Brook produced an antiwar theatrical work 
called US with the Royal Shakespeare Company of London, parts of 
which were included in a short film called The Benefit of the Doubt, 
directed by Peter Whitehead, that was shown at the last New York 
Film Festival. Now Brook has used US as the starting point for a long 
cinema fantasia on the same theme and has used most of the same 
actors. (Note, to our additional shame, that both of these films were 
made in Britain. The only major American picture I know of on this 
subject is John Wayne's forthcoming Green Berets, whose aim will 
presumably be different.) Tell Me Lies begins with Mark, a young 
Londoner, becoming upset by the magazine photo of a bandage- 
swathed Vietnamese baby. He sets out on a kind of pilgrimage around 
London, asking questions, attending rallies, having conversations with 
known and unknown figures. There are also reenactments of some 
actual events, like the self-immolation of Norman Morrison, the 
American Quaker, before the Pentagon. There is a portion of the 
(New York) Open Theater's ribald playlet on how to beat the draft. 
There are songs and sketches. There is a general air of tension. 



56 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

But it is an air of theatrical tension, of self-dramatization. After 
Mark and his girl leave a cinema where they have seen a Buddhist 
monk burning himself in Saigon, she asks him, "What is there that we 
would be prepared to burn ourselves to death for?" The question 
seems to me typical of what is wrong with this film thin dramatics 
over a void of thought. The answer to her question, I should think, 
is: "Nothing, I hope. And I really don't feel remiss about it, either. 
But I also hope there are some things I would want to stay alive as 
long as possible for and to fight about. There are far too many 
burners in the world already. Why do their work for them?" 

The attitudinizing songs, the soul-baring professions, the "daring" 
sketches, are all in a melange of Brecht-Artaud modes that is sup 
posed to assault our minds and our nerve ends, but it only distracts 
us to the surface, to the actors themselves being personal and rather 
designedly uninhibited; so we lose sight of Vietnam in a welter of 
uninteresting candor, as well as of theatrical theory. I am not much 
interested in sophomoric political discussions in Chelsea basements 
simply because the familiar juvenilities are couched this time in 
British locutions. I am not the least bit interested in the actress Glenda 
Jackson being vibrant at me with banal discoveries she has made in 
the recesses of her soul. (I would be very interested in seeing this 
fine actress who was Charlotte Corday in Marat/ Sade in a good 
script that dramatized the putrescence of this war.) 

Earlier, at an outdoor rally, Miss Jackson reads a ringing statement, 
and when Mark asks her who wrote it, she says quietly, "Che 
Guevara," and passes on. We are meant to reel, some way or other, 
without any questions at all, silenced by that charismatic name. This 
is totemism, not politics. 

And this leads to a terrible irony. I think that Brook's film works 
just against the crusading effect he meant it to have precisely be 
cause of his cavalier treatment, or dismissal, of politics. This was 
crystallized for me in one incident. At a party Mark converses with 
Kingsley Amis and Peregrine Worsthorne, two of Britain's staunchest 
supporters of Johnson's 'Vietnam policy, who are clever polemicists. 
Their arguments about stopping communism and drawing the line in 
Vietnam were for me the points that were made most strongly hi the 
whole film! I emphasize as loudly as I can: they are points with which 
I disagree. But the rest of the film is so woozy or quivering-souled or 
East Village Other bawdy about matters I agree with, that the Amis- 



TELL ME LIES 57 

Worsthorne views stand out as a (deceptive) moment of clarity. I 
would have given all the songs, all the blue jokes, all the squiggles of 
soul searching, for one minute of cogent reply to their views. The 
Amis-Worsthornes need to be answered, especially to convince the 
unconvinced; and pictures of charred babies will not move their sup 
porters. No one displayed pictures of the charred babies of Hamburg 
in 1943 or of grievously wounded Egyptians in June 1967 at least 
not as arguments against the Allies or Israel. Why? Because the hor 
rors of war were taken as necessary for political ends. Well, that is 
exactly what the Amis-Worsthornes of the world are saying now, 
and all the pictures of blasted villages and burning Buddhists are only 
clucked over as part of the price for necessary ends. 

Two other recent films about Vietnam also fell far short of the point 
for which they were presumably made. The Anderson Platoon, by the 
Frenchman Pierre Schoendorffer, was a documentary about some U.S. 
soldiers, their courage and their hardships. Some of the footage was 
fine, but it said nothing about this war; with a change of helmets and 
rifles, it could have been made on Guadalcanal. Felix Greene's Inside 
North Vietnam showed us in color how lovely the Vietnamese 
countryside is and how graceful and winning the people are, even if 
the cheerful workers were possibly under the eye of an off-camera 
commissar. But all it accomplished that was really relevant was to re 
fute the American contention that we have never bombed North Viet 
namese civilian centers. And Greene completely avoided the political 
issue that is the reason for the war; his sound track never once men 
tioned the word "communist." 

It can be argued that any film that pushes the daily ghastliness of 
this war into people's faces is worthwhile. But many of those who 
support the war know about the ghastliness quite as well as the war's 
opponents. I cannot imagine that Tell Me Lies would change a war 
supporter's mind; and unless more and more minds are changed, the 
war will not quickly end. 

In my view, what we need most are not products like Tell Me Lies 
or US or Viet Rock, which are, finally, coterie works; and we certainly 
do not need blitheness about some hard political issues as in Far from 
Vietnam, a French film that was also shown at the last New York Film 
Festival, some of which assumed that the problem of communism 
only bothers squares. We need some first-class film documentaries on 
the political answers to the Amis-Worsthornes: documentaries that, 



58 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

among other things, tell the truth about the belated veneer of purpose 
on an initial misadventure; on the escalation of military mistakes and 
political falsehood; on the impossibility of achieving the very aims our 
government professes (because we either have to occupy Vietnam 
permanently or else submit after a treaty, rather than before, to its 
Communist domination) ; that the "line" has been drawn in the wrong 
place. Such documentaries would change those of the opposition who 
could change much sooner than pictures of charred babies. If enough 
people changed, then politicians most of whom are essentially 
amoral would respond; and it is only through the response of those 
with power in Congress and elsewhere that matters can improve. Take 
an example from the lower end of the integrity scale in politics- 
Richard Nixon. If a sufficient number of people expressed opposition 
to the Vietnam war tomorrow, it is a safe bet that Nixon would make 
his next campaign speech under a huge photograph of Dr. Spock. 



Accattone 

(April 6, 1968) 

PIER Paolo Pasolini's first film, Accattone (1961), gets its American 
theatrical premiere long after it has, quite literally, found a place in 
cinema history. (Several books of the last few years discuss it.) His 
later films, The Gospel According to St. Matthew and The Hawks and 
the Sparrows, have already been shown here. I saw Accattone in 
1964 in Rome, again at the 1966 New York Festival, and again re 
cently; and, for me, it lives as a work of narrow but intense vision a 
film about viciousness and criminality that evokes compassion. Its 
style is neorealist: it was made on locations, not in studios, with 
nonprofessional performers. Sometimes this method makes merely 
vernacular films, but it gives Accattone a grainy, gripping authenticity. 
Pasolini came to films after winning distinction as a novelist and 
poet. He won the Viareggio Prize for poetry in 1957 with The Ashes 
of GramscL In the following year Sergio Pacific! called Pasolini "one 
of the youngest and most mature poets to come to prominence [in 
Italy] after the last war," then went on to say: 



ACCATTONE 59 

Certainly the reference to Gramsci, the founder of the Communist Party 
in Italy, is more than a mere tribute. ... It was Gramsci who, in the late 
twenties, writing from the jail where he was to die, urged the formation 
of a new culture that to become "popular" must reflect the aspirations of 
the people. . . . Pasolini has already done much to narrow the gap that 
has always existed between life and literature in Italy. 

I had the chance to speak with Pasolini on television in New York 
in 1966 and took up this point. His use of dialect in prose and verse 
was obviously an attempt to make literature "popular" in the Marxian 
sense; was this the same impulse that had taken him to neorealism in 
films? Yes, he replied, but more than that, the results had led him to 
abandon literature for film making, at least for a time. In his writing 
(I paraphrase from memory) he had sought the quintessences of fac- 
tualness. Film gave him the power of fact to start with, and he could 
go on from there. In his two best films so far, Accattone and St. 
Matthew, I think this is precisely what he has accomplished. 

Accattone, the hero's nickname, means "beggar." (The dialogue is in 
Roman slum dialect, which, I am told, many upper-class Romans have 
trouble in following. This effect untranslatable makes the slum a 
segregated province, moated and clannish.) Accattone is a pimp and 
spends most of his time lounging about with other young men who ap 
parently are also pimps. Their scenes are like big-city criminal versions 
of the loungings of the aimless small-town youths in Fellini's / Vitelloni. 
Accattone's girl, whose prostitution supports them both, is jailed a 
considerable term, for perjury. He has no money, but it is a principle 
with him, as with his companions, not to work for a living, the way his 
brother does. Accattone nearly starves. His friends respect his fidelity 
to principle at the same time that they do nothing to help him; in fact, 
they taunt him. (This, too, seems part of the code.) Then he finds 
another girl, seduces her, and induces her to try whoring. Because she 
loves him, she attempts it but cannot go through with it. He is now 
so emotionally involved with this girl that he sacrifices his principles 
and tries a job, but he cannot go through with that. He turns to 
thievery as a means of keeping his girl off the streets, is chased by 
police, jumps on a motorcycle, and is killed in a collision. 

This synopsis may suggest a tract about society forcing criminality 
on the poor, of pimps and whores as pawns of capitalism's ruthless- 
ness. Pasolini is too good for that. Certainly the film is aware that 



60 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

bourgeois society needs prostitutes as reverse endorsements of its 
virtue, just as it needs thieves to endorse the sanctity of property; 
but Pasolini is a Marxian artist. His Marxism directs his sympathies, 
then his art takes over. His people exercise options as completely if 
not as widely as anyone else. Accattone lives as stringently by his 
code as any parfit gentil knight. He embraces his small son to steal 
the boy's medallion and pawn it to dress his girl for her trade, but he 
does it with an air that says the child would understand if he were 
old enough. No facile tears for the victimized poor. Accattone is not 
much more a victim than most of us, and he has more pride (though 
inverted) than many non-pimps. 

As for Pasolini's direction, its most remarkable feature is that, al 
though this film is now seven years old seven years of accelerating 
stylistic innovations it is neither up to date nor old fashioned. It is a 
piece of straightforward, traditional, intelligent film making. There are 
no "poetic" shots nothing remotely as stunning as the elevation of the 
cross in St. Matthew. Pasolini's strength in Accattone is not in fancy 
camerawork or in editing but in his almost violent closeness to his 
material. He selects and states simply, fiercely. The simplicity con 
veys the fierceness. Yet the picture is not spare: it sits in a nice full 
texture of these people's rites and habits. 

Pasolini has chosen his cast excellently for individual flavor and 
balanced colors. Franco Citti, the Accattone, has a blunt, unforget 
table face, square-jawed yet with the requisite weakness, a man whose 
self-pity flows so readily that it makes us pity the man who needs 
self-pity so badly. Franca Pasut, his (second) girl, is heavy, servile, 
pretty, very moving in her devotion to Accattone and her remorse at 
not being able to lay strangers in order to support him. The minor 
characters are chosen like gems by a jeweler: Mario Cipriani as a 
turkey-cock thief; Umberto Bevilacqua as a Neapolitan hood whose 
beetle-browed, broad smile is scary; and an anonymous, runty, wide- 
eyed girl as the bereft wife of a man in jail, with a brood of kids who 
move around her wherever she walks like an animate hoop skirt. 
Most of the characters, like most lower-class Italians, burst into 
snatches of irrelevant song as they walk or idle, even as they scheme. 

Pasolini handles the pimp's discovery of love without sentimen 
tality. There is one risky point, but he redeems it. At a cafe on the 
Tiber, when a stranger sends a waiter to pick up his girl (having as 
sumed that she was available), Accattone assents, largely because 



ACCATTONE 61 

his friends are watching. As he sees the stranger fondling her, he sud 
denly announces to his friends that he's going to leap from the bridge 
something we have seen him do earlier to win a bet. But this time 
he is drunk, and his friends run after him to restrain him (laughing 
as they do so a masterly touch). They pull him down, he runs 
to the water's edge, wets his face, then rubs it in the sand. For a split 
second, the self-debasement seems too obvious. But the closeup of 
Accattone's sand-plastered face is so ugly the ugliest such shot 
that I know since Charles Vanel's face went into the mud in Clou- 
zot's The Wages of Fear that the moment is purified. 

The music on the sound track is as unsatisfactory as it is in St. 
Matthew. Pasolini bastes on Bach at deliberately inappropriate mo 
ments as during a fight between Accattone and his estranged wife's 
brother. The purpose, I suppose, is to assure us that in these struggling 
animals are souls as precious as any pictured hi that music, but it 
seems affected. And the very end of the film seems strained. We see 
Accattone with his head against the curb where he has been thrown. 
He murmurs, "I'm all right now," and dies. It is hard to believe his 
acceptance of death. A man who has lately had a bad dream of his 
own funeral? A defensive dramatizer of his right to exist? A man 
who has, for the first time, found a girl he does not want to exploit? 
His resignation seems Pasolini's, not his own. 

But Accattone sticks hi the mind small, stubborn, vivid. It is 
credible, not pat; hard, not tough; humane, not lathered with soapy 
social significance. It uses its facts, acknowledging that the film form 
itself can make them real and that therefore the film maker has an 
obligation to take us inside f actualness, where we can see the muscles 
coiling. And this, as Pasolini said, is why he makes films. 

POSTSCRIPT. If only that was why he had continued to make films. 
But his subsequent works, including The Hawks and the Sparrows 
and Teorema, have become increasingly allegorical, increasingly 
picturesque in the worst self-conscious sense, increasingly grandiose 
in a soft, emasculated way. When Pasolini was making films about 
and with the people who used to be his subject hi fiction gutter 
folk his work had vitality and contact. As his films have gone up 
the scale socially, they have become inflated and aloof. The only 
element in Teorema that had any interest for me was the story of 
the serving girl. 



62 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Hour of the Wolf 

(April 20, 1968) 

INGMAR Bergman's previous film, Persona, was related to his earlier 
work thematically and superficially. It dealt with two women, one of 
whom had a young son, which gave it a similar "orchestration" to 
The Silence. Its seaside setting and its quality of light connected it 
with Through a Glass Darkly. The character of the actress had the 
same name (Vogler) as the actor in The Magician, and the very 
title Persona (mask) complemented the original title of that film 
(The Face}. 

In Hour of the Wolf Bergman continues his systems of linkage. 
Like Persona, the new picture is about two people living by the 
sea, one of whom is mentally ill. Liv Ullmann, who played the sick 
person in Persona, is the healthy person here, and she has the same 
name (Alma) as the nurse in the last film. Her lover, the sick person, 
has the same surname (Borg) as the old doctor in Wild Strawberries. 
The name Vogler is again used, for Borg's ex-mistress. There is even 
an attempt an afterthought, it seems to me to carry on the "film 
consciousness" of Persona: under the credits we hear the chatter on 
a studio set, then the warning buzzer sounds, the chatter dies, and 
the film begins. (This element of film consciousness is not used 
further.) Some of these references to past work seem only a private 
game; some of them seem intended to bind Hour of the Wolf in two 
ways to all the serious films Bergman has made since Through a 
Glass Darkly. In form and tone, it is a "chamber" film a term Berg 
man obviously derives from Strindberg's Chamber Plays, which, as 
Torn Dormer says, "cover short spans of time with few actors and 
possess something of the character of intimate music." In theme all 
these chamber films are concerned with mental anguish. 

Most of Hour of the Wolf is a flashback. It begins seven months 
after the death of Johan Borg, a painter in early middle age. His 
pregnant young widow, Alma, comes out of their island house, sits, 
and talks to us. (She knows Johan's internal experiences through a 
diary he has left.) Then we see Johan and Alma arrive at this island 
off the Swedish coast seven months before. He is in a poor mental 
state, worsens, goes quite mad, shoots Alma, thinks he has killed 



HOUR OF THE WOLF 63 

her, then goes off into the woods and kills himself. Other characters 
figure in the story, in fact and in fantasy. An impoverished baron 
lives with his wife and relatives in a castle on the other side of the 
island. The baron is an admirer of Johan's and has one of his paint 
ings a portrait of Johan's ex-mistress, Veronica Vogler. Johan and 
Alma are asked to dinner, and in the course of the evening there is 
a scene reminiscent of that between the novelist and his rich host 
in La None in which the painter tries to justify for himself his life 
in art. He says he is in the grip of a compulsion art that is ir 
relevant to most people in the world. (Something Bergman has said of 
himself at various times.) Later, there is a long sequence of hallu 
cination in which Johan fancies that he revisits the castle and meets 
Veronica, whom the baron has invited so that Johan can copulate 
with her while others watch. This hallucination presumably derives 
from the fact that the baron owns the portrait of Johan's ex-mistress, 
the memorial of the artist's passion. It is a deranged comment on an 
artist's inescapable exposure of privacies. 

Some attempt is made to break out of the confines of case history 
principally with Alma, who takes Johan's condition as her spirit 
ual responsibility. Near the close she even has a hallucination of her 
own, as if in an effort to join him. (Another resemblance to Persona.) 
And at the very end she tells us that there must have been some 
thing more she could have done to save him. But this strikes us as her 
compassion, not a truth of the case. The film records the progress of 
a sickness, and the most we can feel is a hospital visitor's pity. Much 
of the time the picture is somewhat clinical and remote because Johan 
does not represent us. 

We are given no reason to believe that any of the things in the 
world that might drive us mad are relevant to Johan's condition. 
Persona, which I think is Bergman's best film and his masterpiece, 
is about a woman hounded by the horrors curable and otherwise 
that hound many of us. She flees by inner withdrawal (a compro 
mised suicide); and then the film contrasts her withdrawal, which 
seems starkly rational, with the nurse's irrational health. But we know 
little of Johan's past except his affair with Veronica and the fact 
that he has a son. There is nothing to persuade us that we are watch 
ing anything but the course of a disease. In Through a Glass Darkly 
the girl's madness is bound closely to the theme of spiritual hunger, 
both in her own agony and in the colors of the characters around her. 



64 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

But Johan, for all we know to the contrary, would have the same 
disease and would suffer the same way in a religiously secure world. 

Willy-nilly, then, Bergman assumes the responsibility of making 
the images of Johan's illness so graphic and moving that they hold 
us. For the most part they are surprisingly weak given Bergman's 
talent and theme and almost predictable, except that in some of the 
hallucinations he seems to have used a different film stock for heavier 
black-and-white contrasts. (As in the scene where Johan murders a 
boy who is presumably his son.) The distortions, the nightmare 
choruses, the wild projections all these are just about what we 
would expect. Even the work of Sven Nykvist, who has been the 
cinematographer on all but one of Bergman's films since The Virgin 
Spring, is not as beautifully and softly superreal as it usually is. 

But no Bergman picture is barren. He begins here with Alma facing 
us and talking to us for at least three minutes. It certifies his oft- 
stated belief in the human face as the theater of life; and the very fact 
of his self-confidence, that he doesn't feel obliged to hop about to 
keep the shot from being static, keeps it from being static, makes it 
quietly daring. Later there is a scene in which Johan times one min 
ute of silence by his watch. Bergman makes a drama of those sixty 
seconds by conveying Johan's triumph in getting through at least 
one more minute of his life sentence. There are some pure virtuoso 
touches, like one in which Johan is seated on a stony beach, painting. 
On top of a rise a girl appears, with only her legs visible. Her head 
is kept outside the frame even as she approaches. We assume it is 
Alma. Suddenly, when she is next to him, she kneels and we see that 
it is another girl. (Veronica, as we learn.) It is more than a surprise, 
it is a revelation. Because Veronica never really comes to the island, 
the surprise tells us retroactively that we have been watching an il 
lusion. 

Further, there are extraordinary performances in the two leading 
roles. Max von Sydow, the Johan, is one of the world's best screen 
actors. One proof: he is not only good in good pictures or mediocre 
ones, he is good in bad ones; witness The Greatest Story Ever Told 
and Hawaii. His power to concentrate every atom of understanding 
and imagination and presence on every instant is what keeps Johan 
from becoming dreary, although von Sydow cannot by himself make 
the character relevant to us. Liv Ullmann, the virtually mute actress 
in Persona, will win any viewer but will doubly impress those who 



HOUR OF THE WOLF 65 

saw the previous picture. With no flash trickery of makeup or ac 
cent, with no equipment but empathy and a talent for truth, she 
creates here an utterly different character. The aloof, enigmatic, ele 
gant actress of Persona is transformed into the fresh, vulnerable but 
wise girl. This is creative acting, as distinct from vaudeville imper 
sonation. 

But, unfortunately, there is a good deal to dislike. The scenes hi 
the castle, including the long final fantasy, alienate us, when they 
should involve us. All the anticipated or unfruitful symbols, the close- 
ups of faces that seem labeled D for Decadent, the unsubtle chiaro 
scuro, are a disappointing rehash of old German expressionism, some 
thing like Mai Zetterling's Night Games and Loving Couples. These 
castle scenes, as well as other failed introspective scenes, make us 
conscious of cinematic strain, rather than taking us on a painfully 
intense journey through a mental hell. 

The hour of the wolf, says Bergman, is the hour between night and 
dawn "when most people die ... when nightmares are most pal 
pable." It is the hour when Johan cracks irretrievably. (Another 
sign of Bergman's strain: he inserts the title again just before this 
last sequence to make sure we get the point.) The shadow world of 
mental-spiritual torment is Bergman's own, marked out by him more 
and more devotedly as he goes on; and the wolf hour is high noon hi 
that world, therefore of inevitable interest to him. But his specific 
material here is much less resonant than hi his past chamber films, 
much more clinical, and I think that the evident struggle of his film 
to be a film reflects subconsciously, perhaps his sense of this 
aridity. 

Well, in the long run, what of it? Bergman's films have fallen short, 
to some degree, at least as often as they have succeeded, principally 
because he ventures more deeply into the shadows than most directors. 
Hour of the Wolf, his twenty-eighth film, is not one of his successes. 
That is all. Bergman lives and works happily, is "compelled" to 
work. I look forward to his next. 



66 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

La Chinoise 

(April 27, 1968) 

JEAN-LUC Godard's new film is called La Chinoise, but the Chinese 
girl of the title is French: a Parisian student named Veronique who 
is devoted to Mao and Red Guardism and thus is not only anti- 
capitalist but anti the French Communist Party and the Soviet Union. 
She shares an apartment with her lover and another young couple 
and an extra man, all of whom also share her views. The extra man 
is named Kirillov, but The Possessed has been used as a launching 
pad, not as a model. To Godard's credit, he understands that Dostoev- 
sky sees the buffoonery in his serious characters. This buffoonery 
suits Godard's familiar methods; and his characters' ideas, highly 
debatable though they are, at least give La Chinoise a unity that is 
rare for him. 

Godard plays. That is the only way he knows how to be serious. 
(In principle, a wonderful gift.) He plays with almost every con 
ceivable cinematic device. He plays with the world's literature. (There 
is the usual welter of references to authors, and Veronique's lover is 
named Guillaume Meister an actor, of course.) He plays with art. 
(Picasso is invoked with a bull's head made of a bicycle seat and 
handlebars.) He plays with suicide. (Kirillov shoots himself as if his 
death were only an incidental footnote in his life.) He plays with 
murder. (Veronique kills the wrong Soviet embassy official, then, 
as if she had forgotten her gloves, goes back and kills the right one.) 

And he plays with politics. His characters use it as sport, as sexual 
arena, as decor (literally: the walls are painted with Maoist slogans, 
the shelves are pretty with dozens of little red books), as a verbal 
football in consciously useless debate. They walk around reading 
Mao aloud like monks with Scripture. Al Carmines, the minister- 
composer at the Judson Church in New York, recently wrote a one- 
act "opera" on Mao's sayings that used this phenomenon better. 
Carmines' musical settings understood what the maxims say but also 
understood the pleasure the diversion of incantation. Godard's 
characters seem to think they are engaged in political action when 
they walk around the apartment reading; and although he thinks 



LA CHINOISE 67 

there is some amusement in his revolutionaries, he is certainly not 
satirizing them. 

There are only patches of story in the film, and those patches are 
left shredded. (What happened to Veronique after her killings?) Struc 
turally, it cannot be discussed in conventional terms, only in terms 
of jeux d' esprit Often the jeux do have esprit: of youthful spontaneity 
and non sequitur, of "inside" cinema references along with nose- 
thumbing at the canons of cinema, of a "straight" young-love scene 
(Veronique and Guillaume and a record player) or of an equally 
conventional "student" scene. (One couple is sleeping in bed, the 
other couple on chairs, while the radio blares the Internationale; 
Kirillov walks across the bed, picks up the radio, walks back across 
the bed and out, while the two couples do not stir.) And throughout 
there is striking color. Raoul Coutard, the photographer of all but 
one of Godard's pictures, has framed these people against great 
plaques of red and blue and white (flag colors) and has transformed 
shot after shot into posters. 

Some of the performers are taking. Jean-Pierre Leaud, who was 
the child in Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959) and graduated to God 
ard's Masculine Feminine (1966), plays Guillaume with a nice fiery 
scruffiness. Michel Semeniako plays the other male lover, who is 
"expelled" for revisionism, with a homely, sad self-reliance. Godard, 
as he has done before, also uses an actual personage: in this case 
Francis Jeanson, the noted radical writer and teacher, who is very 
agreeable and who has a long conversation with Veronique nicely 
shot on a suburban train that stops every twenty seconds or so. The 
conversation has a feeling of mutual respect and mutual pathos, be 
cause he cannot convince her that isolated terroristic acts are futile 
and she cannot convince him that, for her, futility is not necessarily 
a deterrent. The one weak member of the cast is Veronique herself, 
played by the latest Mrs. Godard, Anne Wiazemsky, whose acting 
ability is not apparent and who resembles a depressed goldfish. 

But if La Chinoise is one of Godard's more organic films, it is still 
faulty and reprehensible, in terms of what it does and eventually 
what it says. (And if we are told that the two matters are inseparable, 
this really does reduce Godard's politics to a game merely an oc 
casion for style.) 

Take it first purely as film. Despite all the high-spirited high jinks 



68 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

and the glints of charm, the net effect is somewhat cold. In The 
Married Woman Godard chose the subject of sex and rendered it as 
a lovely, absolutely unerotic, marmoreal ballet. Here he treats the 
fuming of young activists hi such a disjointed and fragmented way 
that we observe, rather than sympathize; we watch for the next bit 
of horseplay, as at a madcap vaudeville. His own cleverness, up to 
the split second though it may be, intervenes. The beetle-on-a-pin 
feeling is heightened, rather than otherwise, by those fake cinema 
verite interviews that Godard likes. He puts his actors against a wall, 
one at a tune, then asks them questions (his voice barely audible), 
which they answer in character. The first few times he used this de 
vice in his pictures, it seemed to promise greater immediacy, a 
broadening of his character almost in an essaylike way. Now the 
novelty has worn off, and we are conscious only of his intrusion into 
the life of the characters, his insistence on branding them and his 
work with a trademark. 

Out of all the rest of the incessant barrage of devices, look at one 
more. Godard frequently reminds us that this is a film. Before some 
shots we see the clapperboard marking the take; sometimes the actors 
address the camera; sometimes we even see the camera, with Coutard 
behind it. When Richard Lester's actors in How I Won the War 
acknowledged that they were in a film, Lester was telling us some 
thing about entrapment, about roles forced on us by the juggernaut of 
social forms and human stupidity. With Godard it is only a gifted 
man's high-spirited impatience with the limits of his gifts and of his 
medium. 

One incidental note. All through the film he cuts in swift shots of 
American comic book heroes as icons of contemporary violence. The 
rabid pro-Americanism of young French artists and intellectuals in 
the fifties has now turned to rabid anti-Americanism. But the subjects 
at issue are exactly the same: comic books, gangsterism, toughness. 
Vietnam (and possibly Kennedy's murder) turned the abstraction of 
American violence into a reality. When it was only a game, French 
youth liked it; but not now. The lesson seems to have been lost on this 
film's young political activists. 

Which leads to the second principal matter what the film says. 
In the dialogue with Jeanson, Veronique tells him that she wants to 
blow up the university or the Louvre as an act of protest, and he 
tries to dissuade her. She reminds him of his opposition to the Al- 



LA CHINOISE 69 

gerian war and how he suffered for it; he reminds her that this was not 
an isolated act of self-gratification. He makes no impression on her. 
For her, politics remains personal thrill, romance, vengeance. 

I wish I could believe that Godard was commenting on her views 
and those of her friends, that he was saying by implication: "Read 
ing Mao bravely in a Paris apartment or an American dormitory 
is great defiant fun, but it is cheap fun. To take it as more than fun 
either shows a failure of imagination or a dogged romanticism that 
wastes potentially useful radical energy. And if you tell me even 
tell me seriously that to live under Maoism would be no worse than 
the way things are now, my reply would be, Why bother? All that 
turmoil just to establish a different Establishment?" 

Or, failing that, I wish I could believe that Godard is a committed 
Maoist; it would at least give the picture an internal validity. But the 
impression grows and persists that Godard is congenitally a boot 
licker of young boots. When he made Breathless almost ten years 
years ago, postwar nihilism was "in" with youth, so it was "in" with 
him; Breathless was nihilistic. (It was his first film, and it seemed 
a personal statement.) Today the cognate youth group is politically 
activist, so La Chinoise is Maoist. 

I do not suggest that Godard is forbidden to change or that he 
should distort the current state of society or should abandon his in 
terest in youth which is really his only interest. But from the 
course of his work one may deduce a consistent belief: Young equals 
Good, Older equals Bad. This simplistic tenet held by some of 
the Older, too is particularly disquieting in La Chinoise because of 
its subject. Many of us agree that the world is desperate for social 
change, for radical shifts in values, but not all of us think that the 
Maoist "solution" is glamorous. In any event, it is not a subject that 
can be fulfilled in play or in charm even in Godard's somewhat frigid 
charm. Either La Chinoise is fundamentally serious or it is an incon 
sequential divertissement on a serious theme. If the latter, it is irre 
sponsible; if the former, it is glib. 

At one point Guillaume acts out the story of a Chinese Maoist (in 
Moscow, I think it was) who appeared before the press with his face 
wrapped in a towel and complained of a beating. He slowly unwrapped 
the towel (as Guillaume does) while he talked, revealing at last an 
unharmed face. The reporters were confused; but Guillaume explains 
to us that it was wonderful political theater. It is momentarily effec- 



70 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

live; but very soon the juvenility of the Maoist action and of Guil- 
laume's endorsement (via Godard) seems trifling. The scene 
epitomizes the film. 

POSTSCRIPT. Some have said that the subsequent student revolt in 
Paris in 1968 proved the worth of La Chinoise. I can't see the con 
nection. There will probably be space stations in 2001, but that 
fact won't improve Kubrick's picture as such. (See following.) In 
neither case did I question prophetic powers. 



2001: A Space Odyssey 

(May 4, 1968) 

STANLEY Kubrick's 2002: A Space Odyssey took five years and $10 
million to make, and it's easy to see where the time and the money 
have gone. It's less easy to understand how, for five years, Kubrick 
managed to concentrate on his ingenuity and ignore his talent. In 
the first thirty seconds, this film gets off on the wrong foot and, al 
though there are plenty of clever effects and some amusing spots, 
it never recovers. Because this is a major effort by an important 
director, it is a major disappointment. 

Part of the trouble is sheer distension. A short story by Arthur C. 
Clarke, "The Sentinel," has been amplified and padded to make it 
bear the weight of this three-hour film (including intermission). It 
cannot. "The Sentinel" tells of a group of astronauts who reach the 
moon and discover a slab, clearly an artifact, that emits radio waves 
when they approach it. They assume it is a kind of DEW marker, 
set up by beings from a farther planet to signal them that men are at 
last able to travel this far from earth; and the astronauts sit down 
to await the beings who will respond to the signal. A neat little open- 
ended thriller. 

The screenplay by Kubrick and Clarke begins with a prologue four 
million years ago in which, among other things, one of those slabs 
is set up on earth. Then with another set of characters, of course it 
jumps to the year 2001. Pan Am is running a regular service to the 



2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY 71 

moon with a way stop at an orbiting space station, and on the moon 
a similar slab has been discovered, which the U.S. is keeping secret 
from the Russians. (We are never told why.) Then we get the third 
part, with still another set of characters: a huge spaceship is sent to 
Jupiter to find the source or target of the slab's radio waves. 

On this Jupiter trip there are only two astronauts. Conscious ones, 
that is. Three others as in Planet of the Apes are in suspended 
animation under glass. Kubrick had to fill in his lengthy trip with 
some sort of action, so he devised a conflict between the two men 
and the giant computer on the ship. It is not exactly fresh science 
fiction to endow a machine with a personality and voice, but Kubrick 
wrings the last drop out of this conflict because something has to 
happen during the voyage. None of this man-versus-machine rivalry 
has anything to do with the main story, but it goes on so long that by 
the time we return to the main story, the ending feels appended. It 
states one of Clarke's favorite themes that, compared with life 
elsewhere, man is only a child; but this theme, presumably the point 
of the whole long picture, is sloughed off. 

2002 tells us, perhaps, what space travel will be like, but it does 
so with almost none of the wit of Dr. Strangelove or Lolita and with 
little of the editing acuity of Paths of Glory or Spartacus. What is 
most shocking is that Kubrick's sense of narrative is so feeble. Take 
the very opening (embarrassingly labeled "The Dawn of Man"). 
Great Cinerama landscapes of desert are plunked down in front of 
us, each shot held too long, with no sense of rhythm or relation. Then 
we see an elaborate, extremely slow charade enacted by two groups 
of ape men, fighting over a waterhole. Not interwoven with this but 
clumsily inserted is the discovery of one of those black slabs by some 
of the ape men. Then one ape man learns that he can use a bone as 
a weapon, pulverizes an enemy, tosses the weapon triumphantly in 
the air ... and it dissolves into a spaceship thirty-three years from 
now. Already we are painfully aware that this is not the Kubrick we 
knew. The sharp edge, the selective intelligence, the personal mark of 
his best work seem swamped in a Superproduction aimed at hard- 
ticket theaters. This prologue is just a tedious basketful of mixed 
materials dumped in our laps for future reference. What's worse, we 
don't need it. Nothing in the rest of the film depends on it. 

Without that heavy and homiletic prologue, we would at least open 
with the best moments of the film real Kubrick. We are in space 



72 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

immense blue and ghastly lunar light and the first time we see it, 
it's exciting to think that men are there. A spaceship is about to dock 
in a spaceport that rotates as it orbits the earth. All these vasty mo 
tions in space are accompanied by "The Blue Danube," loud and 
stereophonic on the sound track. As the waltz continues, we go in 
side the spaceship. It is like a super jet cabin, with a discreet electric 
sign announcing Weightless Condition with the gentility of a seat belt 
sign. To prove the condition, a ballpoint pen floats in the air next to 
a dozing passenger, a U.S. envoy. In comes a hostess wearing Pan 
Am Grip Shoes to keep her from floating and also wearing that 
same hostess smile which hasn't changed since 1968. When the ship 
docks and we enter the spaceport, there is a Howard Johnson, a 
Hilton, and so on. For a minute our hopes are up. Kubrick has created 
the future with fantastic realism, we think, but he is not content 
with that, he is going to do something with it. 

Not so. Very quickly we see that the gadgets are there for them 
selves, not for use in an artwork. We sense this as the envoy makes 
an utterly inane phone call back to earth just to show off the mecha 
nism. We sense it further through the poor dialogue and acting, which 
make the story only a trite setting for a series of exhibits from Expo 
'OL There is a scene between the envoy and some Russians that 
would disgrace late-night TV. There is a scene with the envoy and 
U.S. officials in secret conference that is even worse. I kept hoping 
that the director of the War Room sequence in Dr. Strangelove was 
putting me on; but he wasn't. He was so in love with his gadgets and 
special effects, so impatient to get to them, that he seems to have 
cared very little about what his actors said and did. There are only 
forty-three minutes of dialogue in this long film, which wouldn't 
matter in itself except that those forty-three minutes are pretty thor 
oughly banal. 

He contrives some startling effects. For instance, on the Jupiter 
trip, one of the astronauts (Keir Dullea) returns to the ship from 
a small auxiliary capsule used for making exterior repairs on the 
craft. He doesn't have his helmet with him and has to blow himself 
in through an airlock (a scene suggested by another Clarke story, 
"Take a Deep Breath"), Kubrick doesn't cut away: he blows Dullea 
right at the camera. The detail work throughout is painstaking. For 
instance, we frequently see the astronauts at their controls reading 
an instrument panel that contains about a dozen small screens. On 



2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY 73 

each of those screens flows a series of equations, diagrams, and sig 
nals. I suppose that each of those smaller screens needed a separate 
roll of film, projected from behind. Multiply the number of small 
instrument panel screens by the number of scenes in which we see in 
strument panels, and you get the number of small films of mathe 
matical symbols that had to be prepared. And that is only one in 
cidental part of the mechanical fireworks. 

But all for what? To make a film that is so dull, it even dulls our 
interest in the technical ingenuity for the sake of which Kubrick has 
allowed it to become dull. He is so infatuated with technology of 
film and of the future that it has numbed his formerly keen feeling 
for attention span. The first few moments that we watch an astro 
naut jogging around the capsule for exercise really around the 
tubular interior, up one side, across the top, and down the other side 
to the floor it's amusing. An earlier Kubrick would have stopped 
while it was still amusing. The same is true of an episode with the 
repair capsule, which could easily have been condensed and which 
is subsequently repeated without even much condensation of the 
first episode. High marks for Kubrick the special-effects man; but 
where was Kubrick the director? 

His film has one special effect that certainly he did not intend. He 
has clarified for me why I dislike the idea of space exploration. A 
few weeks ago Louis J. Halle wrote hi The New Republic that he 
favors space exploration because: 

Life, as we know it within the terms of our earthly prison, makes no 
ultimate sense that we can discover; but I cannot, myself, escape the 
conviction that, in terms of a larger knowledge than is accessible to us 
today, it does make such sense. 

I disbelieve hi this sophomoric definition of "sense," but anyway 
Halle's argument disproves itself. Man's knowledge of his world has 
been increasing, but life has, in Halle's terms, made less and less sense. 
Why should further expansion of physical knowledge make life more 
sensible? Still it is not on philosophic ground that I dislike space ex 
ploration, nor even on the valid practical ground that the money and 
the skills are more urgently needed on earth. Kubrick dramatizes a 
more physical and personal objection for me. 

Space, as he shows us, is thrillingly immense, but, as he also shows 



74 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

us, men out there are imprisoned, have less space than on earth. The 
largest expanse in which men can look and live like men is his space 
port, which is rather like spending many billions and many years so 
that we can travel millions of miles to a celestial Kennedy Airport. 
Everywhere outside the spaceport, men are constricted and dehuman 
ized. They cannot move without cumbersome suits and helmets. They 
have to hibernate in glass coffins. The food they eat is processed into 
sanitized swill. Admittedly the interior of Kubrick's spaceship is not 
greatly different from that of a jetliner, but at least planes go from 
one human environment to another. No argument that I have read 
for the existence of life elsewhere has maintained that other planets 
would be suitable for men. Imagine zooming millions of miles all 
those tiresome enclosed days, even weeks in order to live inside a 
space suit. 

Kubrick makes the paradox graphic. Space only seems large. For 
human beings, it is confining. That is why, despite the size of the 
starry firmament, the idea of space travel gives me claustrophobia. 

POSTSCRIPT. Kubrick cut nineteen minutes out of 2001 after it 
opened. I saw the film again and thought that the cuts did little to 
help the sagging, although the fact that they had been made at all con 
travenes those admirers of the picture who say that Kubrick was not 
concerned with such matters as action and suspense. 

Those admirers certainly exist, as I got ample proof. Usually 
letters that disagree with my reviews do so in pretty angry and di 
rect terms. I got a number of such letters about 2001, but I also got 
a quite unusual response: about two dozen very long letters, from 
four to eight typewritten pages, calmly disagreeing, generally sad but 
generally hopeful that I would eventually see the light. They came 
from widely scattered parts of the country, from students, a lawyer, a 
clergyman, a professor, and others. Most of those letters must have 
taken their authors a full day to compose and to type, and I felt 
that this disinterested, quite private support (none of the letters was 
sent for publication) was the best compliment that Kubrick could 
have been paid. 

But he received plenty of public support as well. There were long 
articles explaining the psychedelic base of 2001; there were new sys 
tems of film esthetics, by erudite and articulate critics, that used it as 
a foundation. With many of these critics I admired the inner consis- 



THE ODD COUPLE 75 

tency of their arguments, but for the most part, I could not see much 
connection between the criticism and the film. For instance, one of 
them said that 2001 had aroused adverse criticism (presumably from 
people like me) because it overlooks "assumptions promoted by a 
certain kind of literary humanism," because "its politics are unnam- 
able," and because "it presents a complex and sometimes exalting 
image of that technology which we've been told again and again is 
inhuman and, therefore, the enemy of both art and the human spirit." 

How I would like to see that film! (In spite of what I said about 
the dehumanizing effects of space travel, it is obviously a wonder 
ful pictorial subject.) But has this critic described 2001? The entire 
prologue is a heavy cautionary tale about the animalistic moral in 
heritance of human beings. The entire closing, on Jupiter, busies it 
self in tying up the humanistic story, after the long detour on the ex 
pedition into attenuated visual effects. The politics, far from being 
unnamable, are explicit cold war stuff, made ridiculous sub specie 
aeternitatis and therefore all the more a satiric statement of human 
ist concern about the human spirit. 

My conviction remains: that 2001 started as a "true" Kubrick 
film on themes to be found in Arthur C. Clarke's previous fiction; 
that, en route through the years to completion, Kubrick fell in love 
with his technical ingenuity and equipment, and dallied with it. For 
me, 2007 is the luckiest film since Tom Jones even luckier, because 
it not only made money, its shortcomings (in my view) fit perfectly 
the needs of a school of contemporary estheticians, who made the 
most of their opportunity. 

One last point. Some have said that this picture cannot be truly 
appreciated unless one is high on pot. I assume that pot might make 
it more enjoyable, but then pot would also improve Dr. Dolittle. 



The Odd Couple 

(May 25, 1968) 

ROUGHLY speaking, there are two kinds of film stars: those who are 
what we yearn to be and those who represent us realistically. The 



76 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

first are impossibly attractive, and they embody the beauty inside 
us that the world never sees from Valentino and Garbo and Die 
trich to both Hepburns (Katharine and Audrey), Peter OToole, and 
Gary Grant. The second embody the good humor, honesty, and 
warm humanity that, we are all sure, are our hallmarks to the world 
Mary Pickford, Jean Arthur, Shirley MacLaine, Jean Gabin, James 
Cagney, Julie Andrews, Spencer Tracy for a random sample. There 
are also hybrids, combining glamour looks and earthiness Fredric 
March, Sophia Loren, Tony Curtis, Lucille Ball are a few but it 
is the consciousness of the two original elements in them that makes 
the compound effective. 

Now we have a new star of the second, everyday type, so phe 
nomenally commonplace that he almost makes the commonplace 
magical Walter Matthau. (Not a new actor, a relatively new star.) 
Every office- working male in the U.S. either looks and sounds like 
Matthau or has felt, at some time or other, that he did. Matthau per 
sonifies all our grouches and resignations and small, beer-can pleas 
ures that compensate for the fate of being alive in the twentieth 
century, and all with a sour humor that fulfills our fantasies ("Wish 
I'd said that") and massages our repressions. 

Also, he has sex appeal. I saw his latest film, The Odd Couple, 
amidst a morning audience of middle-aged ladies, and older. The 
atmosphere round about me suggested that he reminded them of all 
those thousands of nights in marriage beds on the upper West Side 
or in Great Neck or Shaker Heights, not as it would have been with 
Richard Burton but full of friendliness, of a familiar passion some 
how enhanced by mutual remembrance of squabbles in the car on hot 
Sundays and trouble with the kids and meeting all those endless bills. 

In this new film Matthau co-stars with Jack Lemmon, who is one 
of the hybrid star types Joe Average but a bit too good looking 
and adroit to be only J. A. and latterly too obtrusive a performer to 
let his J. A. personality work. 

The Odd Couple was adapted for the screen by Neil Simon from 
his Broadway success, and once again a play suffers from screen 
dispersal. Everything that is forced to take place outside the one 
original setting a living room suffers for it. 

The basic gimmick concerns a divorce (Matthau) who has allowed 
his large apartment to become slovenly, and a poker crony ( Lem 
mon ), freshly separated from his wife, whom Matthau invites to 



BELLE DE JOUR 77 

move in. Lemmon is a compulsive cleaner and housekeeper and soon 
begins, with his neatness, to drive Matthau batty. 

For me, the best feature of this comedy is that it ignores completely 
the theme of latent homosexuality. It would have been irritating if the 
theme had been treated superficially; besides, the purposes of the play 
are quite adequately served by its surface motions without any shal 
low delving. The next best feature is that it has a lot of very funny 
lines gags, really, produced by Broadway machinery in excelsis, 
still undeniably funny. 

But, as Simon showed in Barefoot in the Park, he simply can't go 
the distance. He can't build a full-length play. The Odd Couple be 
gins with humor based on an authentic situation and degenerates into 
mechanical horseplay that is interchangeable with lots of other Broad 
way comedies. Simon, who was originally a TV sketch writer, is still 
a sketch writer: he has an eye for an amusing situation and a gift 
of the gag, but his whole instinct is to finish fast. When the curtain 
rises again on Act Two we can almost hear him saying, "You 
mean there's more? What do I do now?" (His new hit, Plaza Suite, 
which I haven't seen, consists of three short plays.) These short- 
winded shortcomings are equally obvious in the film versions of his 
plays. 

Gene Saks, who also directed the film of Barefoot in the Park, has 
directed The Odd Couple less laboriously but without distinction. The 
Technicolor is, in two senses, ghastly. 



Belle de Jour 

(May 25, 1968} 

IF Luis Bunuel's new^ film were by an unknown director and thus 
were not escorted by the usual phalanx of Bunuel panegyrists, it 
might be easier to see it as a moderately amusing restatement of a 
familiar theme, fairly well performed, frequently titillating. True, 
some of the editing is sloppy (like the bit where we follow Michel 
Piccoli from the ski lodge for no reason whatsoever) ; true, the sym 
bolism is heavy (like Jean Sorel's glimpse of the wheelchair that 



78 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

prefigures his accident) and the flashbacks that explain the heroine's 
psyche are simplistic; true, Bufiuel is overfond of opening a sequence 
with a shot of a set and letting the actors walk into it; and true, too, 
that the heroine's fantasy sequences are prosaically conceived. But 
the color is good, the pace is satisfying, and the brothel atmosphere 
is something that is always interesting to both sexes. 

For Belle de Jour, Bufiuel returns to Paris, where he started his 
film career in 1926. The basic idea of the picture was old even before 
the Empress Messalina painted her nipples gold and went out to 
stand on Roman street corners. The screenplay was adapted by 
Bufiuel and Jean-Claude Carriere from a novel by Joseph Kessel, 
which Bunuel is said to dislike. It has some resemblance to the Giles 
Cooper-Edward Albee play Everything in the Garden, which was 
seen, with fit brevity, on Broadway this season it concerns a re 
spectable wife who works secretly as a prostitute in the afternoons. 
The Cooper- Albee play, not to elevate it one whit, tried to use the 
idea as an attack on the mendacities of bourgeois life. Bunuel, who 
has often animadverted against bourgeois society, uses the idea solely 
in subjective, psychopathic terms. A young woman, who is frigid 
because of childhood conditioning, has married a weak, gentle young 
man. She indulges in fantasies of flagellation and violation and, in her 
own bed, she recoils from her too kind husband. Through a series of 
clues dropped by friends, she finds a genteel expensive brothel, where, 
after some initial hesitation, she throws herself heartily into her 
work always leaving at five so that she can be home before hubby. 
We see a succession of odd patrons who arouse her; but she becomes 
thoroughly infatuated with the toughest of the lot, a brutal gold- 
toothed young thug. Her afternoon activities eventually lead to dis 
aster for her poor husband, to her retirement from her new profession, 
and to her return to the fantasy life with which she began. 

Her story is unrelated (as far as we are shown) to social-cultural 
causes, nor is it an excursion into Sadean freedom. Except when he 
is dealing with rape, Sade usually writes of people who have full 
sex lives of one kind or another, or of virgins who are eager to begin, 
who extend their sex lives in order to extend the borders of experience 
and to rebel privately against custom and religious proscription. 
Bunuel's heroine is not a virgin yet she has, figuratively, no sex life; 
her expedition into whoredom is psychologically compelled, a drastic 



A FACE OF WAR 79 

means to redress early emotional injury rather than a "normal" per 
son's deliberately expanded freedom. 

There is a passage from Friedrich Engels about novelists that 
Bunuel, in a 1953 lecture, applied to film makers: 

The novelist will have acquitted himself honorably of his task when, 
by means of an accurate portrait of authentic social relations, he will 
have destroyed the conventional view of the nature of those relations, 
shattered the optimism of the bourgeois world, and forced the reader to 
question the permanency of the prevailing order, and this even if the 
author does not offer us any solutions, even if he does not clearly take 
sides. 

In Belle de Jour the text is Krafft-Ebing, not Engels. By Engels* stan 
dards, since Bunuel has dealt with a sickness that could occur in any 
society, the film maker has neither shattered the optimism of the 
bourgeois world nor forced us to question the prevailing order, and 
has not in this instance "acquitted himself honorably." Instead of fol 
lowing the guidelines he himself has set, Bunuel has merely provided 
a diversion for the bourgeoisie a very mild diversion at that. 

His cast includes two men who have acted for him before, Michel 
Piccoli, as a rich hedonist, and Francisco Rabal, as an older thug. 
Along with Piccoli, there are two other actors from another recent 
piece of French near pornography, Benjamin. (A coincidence?) 
Pierre dementi is the young tough, and Catherine Deaeuve plays the 
title role, dementi is much more credible here in ugliness than he was 
as the golden Benjamin. Miss Deneuve, who incidentally provides 
us with an Yves Saint Laurent fashion show, looks dainty in her 
underwear, but her face is not much more expressive than her naveL 



A Face of War 

(June 1, 1968) 

DOCUMENTARIES it is not superfluous to note are supposed to 
document. Often, in these days of cinema equivocation called cinema 



80 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

verite, documentaries consist of pseudo-impromptu interviews, care 
fully steered and tendentiously edited. Obviously there is no such 
thing as utterly objective reporting, but there is such a thing as ob 
jective intent. Propaganda films are often desirable; subjective non- 
fiction films can be good art; but a documentary might be defined as 
fact dramatized but not distorted by either prejudice or zeal. 

A Face of War is one of the best documentaries I have seen on its 
subject. Eugene S. Jones, an unknown name to me, is its principal 
author. With two other cameramen, J. Baxter Peters and Christopher 
Sargent, with a sound recordist named Robert Peck, Jones spent 
ninety-seven days in 1966 with Mike Company, Third Battalion, 
Seventh Marine Regiment, in Vietnam. (More than half of Mike 
Company were killed or wounded in those ninety-seven days.) The 
result of their work as edited superlatively by Jono Roberts must 
stand as a lasting record of the American military experience in 
Vietnam and of the foot soldier's life today which is to say, the life 
of the Assyrian or Babylonian foot soldier as modified by modern 
technology and social attitudes (including his own) toward the sol 
dier's occupation. 

The first fact documented by this feature-length film is that today's 
soldier is a packhorse. Surely no fighter has had to carry so much into 
battle since the medieval knight. After that, as a spectrum of experi 
ence, the film's range is wide, yet not shallow. From the first shot (a 
rifle being loaded) to the last (men trudging into twilight), there is 
a feeling of multifold empathy and many simultaneous realities. The 
camera falls to the ground when men throw themselves down for 
safety; it fights through the helicopter wind as men carry the wounded 
to be evacuated; it scans soldiers' faces in a native hut as they watch a 
woman give birth; it twists with men in another kind of agony; it 
follows the string wire of a booby trap being disarmed; it attends 
mass and attends briefings; it huddles around a small campfire. 

To itemize details is possibly to make you think you have seen 
it all before on TV and in other documentaries. The triumph of 
Jones's film is that, in great measure, you are right, and yet it is 
still extraordinary. Jones and his colleagues are better photographers, 
their sound track is more vivid, their film as a whole is more percep 
tive of the fate of everyone in it marine and VC and civilian than 
any TV or other filmed report I have seen about Vietnam. Besides 
the superior treatment of the expected, there are some unique touches. 



LES CARABINIERS 81 

For example, when we see some huts burning, we get the usual faces 
(yes, usual!) of women watching and weeping; but Jones also shows 
us U.S. soldiers watching them: stilled, uncertain, almost impatient at 
the interference with their feelings. 

Further, there is the fine editing by Roberts. So much of A Face of 
War is excellently woven, in flow from shot to shot and in the shaping 
of whole sequences, that (in the best sense) it takes on the quality of 
a fiction film for which the shots were manufactured. In one sequence, 
we pan with the muzzle of a flame-throwing tank gun from left to 
right, then cut to a reverse movement by a similar gun, then cut to 
a reverse of that, and so on, at slightly increasing tempo. The move 
ment of these horrible weapons is graceful; by editing to reveal the 
grace, Roberts has emphasized the horror. 

This is an apolitical picture, unlike some other recent Vietnam 
films. It will not (nor was it intended to) alter anyone's views on the 
necessity of the war, whatever those views may be. It simply attempts 
to crystallize the experience of being in it: from the fighting to a foot 
ball game (during a lull) in the mud to Hanoi Hannah broadcasting 
a Guy Lombardo record of "Jingle Bells" to the conversations about 
home. A sergeant, kneeling next to a wounded Vietnamese, says, 
"I'll never get used to writing these casualty tags for civilians." There 
is more pith in that remark in its very spontaneity than in all of 
Soldiers, Rolf Hochhuth's new elephantine play on the same subject. 



Les Carabiniers 

(June 1, 1968) 

JEAN-LUC Godard made Les Carabiniers, his fifth feature, in 1963, 
and was evidently aware from the start that there was no point in 
making a fiction film about the horror of war simply to convey the 
horror. By 1963, everyone who would see his film would be well 
aware of the horror partly because of documentaries. The only 
point in making fiction about war was to go beneath the surface of 
slaughter, to stain in the lab sense some virus strains in human 
behavior. 



82 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Godard chose to make his film in a childlike way, with few actors, 
minimum verisimilitude, fabulist simplicity, and home-movie tech 
niques. (Which must have entailed much restraint, since his cinema- 
tographer was the wonderful Raoul Coutard.) The whole film, except 
for some inserted newsreel shots of carnage, is conscious playacting. 
Nobody is frightened of killing or dying. Condemned prisoners walk 
to the wall, knowing that we know that they will get up again after the 
camera moves away, that there are blanks in the Sten guns. Symbolic 
ballet not gripping realism is the mode. 

Godard made this film in midwinter, with bare hard ground and 
gray light; we sometimes see the steamy breath of the actors. Two 
young men and two girls live in a shack in the middle of an immense 
ugly field near a town (unnamed, as is the country). Two soldiers 
drive up one day in a jeep, wearing fictitious uniforms, to deliver no 
tices from the "King," telling the young men that they must come 
along and be carabiniers (riflemen) in the King's war. The young 
men are neither bright nor appealing (a good touch, their member 
ship in the commonalty), and they are quickly won over by de 
scriptions of loot they will garner and by advance permission to 
break children's arms. They go along with the soldiers. The girls 
soon entertain a gentleman caller. 

Postcards are a main device. Many Brechtian titles are flashed on 
the screen, describing the young men's war experiences, all of them 
in postcard scrawl (we frequently see the girls going to the mailbox to 
pick up the cards); the bulk of the film consists of scenes showing 
what the postcards have already described. And when the young men 
come home, their loot consists only of a valise full of postcards, which 
again in a Brechtian-gull way they treat as payment for their 
years of wandering and killing. There is even an organ tune remi 
niscent of Weill under the very long scene where they pull out the 
cards, one by one, with feebleminded pleasure as if they had indeed 
brought home the palaces and treasures and women that are pic 
tured. Then there is a postwar revolution. The war has been lost; the 
royalists accuse democrats, Marxists, and Jews of a stab in the back; 
and in the hubbub, when the two young men go to collect some real 
loot, they are shot. 

To emphasize the primitivist effect, Godard uses some early film 
references. Roy Armes has noted, in French Cinema Since 1946, 
that some sequences pointedly refer to films by Louis Lumiere, the 



ROSEMARY'S BABY 83 

French film pioneer. There is a scene in a movie theater that sug 
gests Keaton and Sennett comedies. There are several suggestions of 
Chaplin's Shoulder Arms. Also, Godard sometimes quickly fades to 
black, then quickly fades in on the same shot a stylistic equivalent 
of the jump-cuts in Breathless as if to make sure we never forget 
that we are watching the "pretense" of a film. 

In the nine-year spate of Godard's work, Les Carabiniers seems 
to me one of his more satisfactory films. It is not necessary to con 
struct a style -for it, as some Godard enthusiasts have done in other 
instances, using the record of his cascading whims, energies, and im 
pulses as proof of an esthetics simply because all these things are 
photographed and permanent. Les Carabiniers has shape and com 
mitment. (One serious flaw is the use of newsreel shots: real bodies 
diminish the larger, unrealistic points that the film is trying to make.) 
But, leaving aside the tedium of such scenes as the long postcard 
inventory, there is, I think, a barrier between this film and us. 

Godard has soundly decided to view his story about the slaver 
ies of war from an abstract angle. But he then proceeds to tell us 
nothing we don't already know "know" in the emotional or psy 
chical sense. Imagination is not enlarged for us; cognition is not 
deepened. We simply watch a charade which, with some exceptions, 
is largely foreseeable once it has begun. With so little of new depth 
or powerful restatement, the film begins to backfire on Godard. Be 
cause he uses his method to relatively weak ends, the film eventually 
seems only an advertisement of his cleverness in choosing the method. 



Rosemary* 5 Baby 

(June 15, 1968) 

SOMEWHERE near the middle of Rosemary's Baby, three things begin 
to happen, and the second half of the film becomes highly effective. 
First, the cumbersome building-block method at the start is aban 
doned for the use of what has been built. Second, Mia Farrow begins 
to justify her presence as Rosemary; we see that she has been cast 
with a view to what happens ultimately, rather than for initial (failed) 



84 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

charm. Third, our expectations change toward the director, Roman 
Polanski. We realize that he must no longer be burdened with the 
standards he set for himself with Knife in the Water; since that 
picture, he has only been trying to entertain us and, on this level, 
he is at last succeeding. 

The screenplay, based on Ira Levin's novel, is credited to Polanski. 
This is remarkable. Even though much of the dialogue comes from 
the book, even though Polanski's fluency in English has grown as 
tonishingly, it is still a fact that he left Poland less than five years ago 
with no English at all. 

The story, familiar to many, is about a young New York couple 
who get trapped in witchcraft, and it thrives on the contrast between 
Manhattan modernity and ancient magic. The setting is a famous 
old apartment house on Central Park West. A young actor makes 
a bargain with a band of witches technically, a coven in return 
for success in the theater that they will fix supernaturally for him. The 
deal obliges him to let Satan beget a child on his wife, who is quite 
unaware of the Faustian pact but who is to be a "black" Mary bear 
ing a "black" Messiah. The plot focuses on her slow realization of 
what is happening in and around her during her pregnancy, her efforts 
to save her forthcoming child, and, after delivery, her acceptance 
out of irresistible mother instinct of her diabolic infant son. 

Most films that begin feebly finish feebly. Rosemary's Baby is an 
exception. The opening pan along the New York skyline, then down 
the front of the apartment house, is trite. The first scenes are dis 
appointing: the young couple and the renting agent, the couple and 
an old friend at dinner, the young wife and another girl in the base 
ment laundromat. They lack the sense of control that even Polanski 
disappointments like Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac showed in every 
frame. Much of the shooting in the early part is from floor level, pos 
sibly to suggest overhanging dread even in bland scenes, but it doesn't 
work. For too long, our only interest is in an elderly couple next door. 
Sidney Blackmer's fruity acting is here overripened to suggest de 
cadence. Ruth Gordon's stridency and gnomishness, which have 
usually distracted me in the theater, are here skillfully used to imply 
that her comic everydayness covers something baleful. Then, too, as 
the film begins to jell, Miss Farrow begins to hold us. Through sheer 
unattractiveness, as well as inadequacy, she flounders at first in what 
seems a hip comedy with mystery overtones. When she becomes the 



ROSEMARY'S BABY 85 

emaciated, trapped victim of a mystery with comic overtones, she 
gets much better. 

Some of the other casting is questionable. As the young couple's 
older friend, Maurice Evans is an elocutionary dud. As Miss Farrow's 
husband, John Cassavetes has little flavor and only imitative sharp 
ness but, admittedly, this makes him resemble many of the people 
in the theater world that his character inhabits. Ralph Bellamy, as a 
bearded Jewish obstetrician, is not markedly different from Ralph 
Bellamy as Franklin D. Roosevelt, save for the whiskers. 

The Technicolor camerawork of William Fraker is acceptable, 
except in the exteriors, where it is unacceptable. The process photog 
raphy dreams and so on by Farciot Edouart is much more clearly 
"seen." The most interesting point about the music, which is too 
whooped up in the climactic scene, is that it was written by Chris 
topher Komeda, who, as Krzysztof Komeda-Trzcinski, has written 
the scores for almost all of Polanski's films since they were students 
together in Poland.* 

As for Polanski himself, he is teaching us how to regard him. Knife 
in the Water, his fine first film, was a tight little Sartrean engine of 
internal forces. Since then, the horrors in his films have become much 
more external, at best merely entertaining. Repulsion, a chronicle of 
psychotic murders, was coolly frightening, if largely gratuitous. Cul-de- 
Sac was a far-out thriller-rag, less successful but sometimes ingenious. 
The Fearless Vampire Killers, which Polanski says was mutilated by 
the distributors, was an amusing idea for a Dracula spoof, but it com 
pletely misfired. Rosemary's Baby seems to settle in right where he 
wants to live: as a manufacturer of intelligent thrillers, clever and 
insubstantial. Only a director with wit could have made the witchcraft 
credible. Only a director with real cinematic gifts could have made 
a sequence like the one where Rosemary barricades herself in the 
apartment or the childbirth scene. Only a director satisfied with 
ephemera could have lavished his gifts on the whole project. 



* Komeda died, as the result of an accident, on April 23, 1969, aged 37. 



86 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Fist in His Pocket 

(June 15, 1968) 

THE young Italian Marco Bellocchio proved Ms talent with China Is 
Near, his second film, with which he made his American debut. 
Now his first film, Fist in His Pocket, has arrived. It is excellently 
acted, and Bellocchio has directed with a wonderful modern im 
patience impatience with irrelevant detail, mechanical transition, 
and conventional sentiments. But all the talents of cast and director 
spill out of the leaky script. Written by Bellocchio, it is intended 
as dark domestic tragedy; ^ends almost as melodramatic parody. 

An upper-middle-class family in a north Italian villa. Winter. 
(It's not always bleak in northern Italy, but no young intellectual 
Italian director wants any suggestion of "O Sole Mio" in his work.) 
Mother, a widow, is fiftyish and blind. Four grown children: a lawyer 
(betrothed), an idle lovely girl, an epileptic son, and a demented son. 
The epileptic decides that, to free the eldest son, he will do away with 
all the others, including himself. A car crash on a particular trip would 
settle it, but he loses his nerve at the wholesale job and goes to work 
piecemeal. Subsequently he pushes Ma off a cliff and holds the loony 
under his bath water. When Sis discovers this (after a spot of incest 
between her and the epileptic), she is shocked into a backward fall 
downstairs, cracks her spine, and is paralyzed. It all ends with the 
sister bedridden, helpless to aid the epileptic in the next room, who is 
writhing on the floor while a phonograph blares La Traviata. Violetta's 
penultimate note in Act One is prolonged on the sound track to finish 
the film with a scream. 

This synopsis does Bellocchio no injustice because what starts as 
Italianate Faulkner is soon so contrived in its dooms that it becomes 
a long gallery of grotesques, without much relation to us or to the 
demons in contemporary society. China Is Near, despite its dogged 
Godard imitations, is a much more relevant work. Fist in His Pocket, 
made a year earlier (1966), seems an overreaction to the sugar candy 
of most films. You can almost hear Bellocchio swearing to revenge 
himself for all the movie floss he had been forced to endure in his 
twenty-six years. 

Yet it is finely executed. Three actors especially deserve mention. 



PETULIA 87 

Lou Castel, the epileptic, is more than credible in perversity. Marino 
Mase, the oldest son, has strength and depth. The daughter, Paola 
Pitagora, is not only a good actress, she has one of the loveliest 
Italian faces on film record. 



Petulia 

Uune 29, 1968) 

RICHARD Lester's Petulia is a dazzling smear across the screen 
fuzzy, unrealized, stunning. He has taken some unlikely materials 
and, in his gifted hands, they remain unlikely materials; but much of 
what he does with them is wizardry. 

The script by Lawrence B. Marcus, from a novel by John Haase, 
has some bright dialogue, kooky and kurrent, but it does not validate 
a basically sudsy, unsatisfactory drama. Petulia is an English girl 
married to the scion of a rich, reactionary San Francisco family. At 
a charity ball ("Shake for Highway Safety") she sees a fortyish di 
vorced doctor and at once tells him, with leaden impishness, that 
she wants an affair with him. He is reluctantly acquiescent; they go 
to a motel where she gets (euphemistically) cold feet. Subsequently, 
however, she pursues him, and they bed. Her young vicious husband 
finds her in the doctor's apartment alone and beats her to the edge 
of death. After the doctor saves her life, her in-laws spirit her out 
of the hospital, and she rejoins her husband, of whom she is per 
versely fond. She refuses the doctor's rescue. They glimpse each other 
occasionally through the following months. At last she turns up at 
his hospital to give birth. Even at this moment, the doctor offers to 
rent a private ambulance and flee with her. She declines ruefully. 
They part, forever, with a quip. 

The point, presumably, is interchange. Early on, the doctor tells 
a colleague that he got divorced only because he felt nothing in his 
marriage and wants "to feel something." Petulia feels excessively, 
and is unstable. At the end he says to her, "You've turned me into 
a nut"; she has presumably become stable. Unfortunately, this re 
mains an equation on paper. He has not become a nut, as far as we 



88 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

can see, or a more feeling person than he was. The only serious 
change in Petulia is that at last she is satisfying her starved maternal 
urge, which is not the same, necessarily, as undergoing a change of 
character. 

The last portion of the film concentrates on Petulia's reconciliation 
with her husband. Up to then the focus has been on the doctor, and 
Petulia has been a character in his story. This final shift is a tail that 
keeps wagging but never wags the dog. We are made to go through 
a simulated nine months discursive and anticlimactic all for the 
sake of that brief ante partum scene. Also, throughout the film a lot 
of her kookiness is drearily arch, including a long sequence about a 
tuba. 

But even this same script would be much more enjoyable with some 
improved performances. Julie Christie, the Petulia, is a photog 
rapher's model, not an actress, so incompetent that she doesn't even 
seem beautiful any more. Her first film appearance, in Billy Liar, 
Was her best just as a striking face. John Schlesinger, who made 
that film, evidently became infatuated with her face and adored her, 
by camera, all through Darling. She floundered as Lara in Dr. Zhi- 
vago. Truffaut doubled her dullness by giving her two roles in Fahren 
heit 451. Then Schlesinger cast her as Bathsheba in Far from the 
Madding Crowd, which exposed her as a mod Chelsea minitalent 
wallowing about in Wessex. (Nicholas Roeg, who photographed her 
well in that film, does it again here.) Now Lester has cast her in 
light brittle comedy, the kind of acting that is probably the most tech 
nically demanding and she is a girl with almost zero technique! 
All she has are her face, a pleasant voice, and some weak ability to 
imitate actresses she has seen. And what has happened to her lower 
lip? It was always large; now it just seems to hang there, immobile, 
while she chatters behind it. 

Richard Chamberlain, as her spoiled young husband, looks pretty 
enough but lacks the necessary hint of evil, of filth under silk. Joseph 
Gotten, his Birch-barking father, has not given a really satisfactory 
performance since Citizen Kane. Arthur Hill, who plays a colleague 
of the hero's, is a good actor but here is casually unintelligible much 
of the time. 

With these people replaced or improved, results would have been 
much better, because the doctor is played by George C. Scott, who 
though not the world's most lovable personality is a tremen- 



PETULIA 89 

dously appropriative actor. With the restraint that, happily, he has 
been developing, he takes possession of a role in a way that makes it 
unimaginable apart from him, which is at least one definition of talent. 
I'm unable to believe that Petulia sees this stranger across a crowded 
room and decides wham-bang that this is an enchanted evening; 
nevertheless the role and the film quickly become Scott's domain. 
(That is why the shift of focus away from him is tedious.) Pippa 
Scott is right as his mistress, the kind of pleasant woman whom no 
one ever marries. Shirley Knight, as Scott's ex-wife, stops with 
brakes screaming just this side of Sandy Dennis-type sensitivity. 
A scene between her and Scott in his apartment, full of sublimated 
desires and tensions, is one of the best in the film. 

But all the above and this is why the picture is remarkable 
really tells you very little about Petulia. It could describe a well-in 
tended Lumet or Frankenheimer fumble. The difference, the excite 
ment, is visual, is Lester. He was disappointingly misguided here, I 
think, in his choice of material and players, but once in, he was in 
uncorked and bubbling. He attacks his films, probably too frenetically 
but with such effervescence of ideas, such eagerness to do everything 
he can imagine, and with such incessant imagination, that his ebulli 
ence seems to spill out of the frame all over us. When we begin to 
think "Enough already!" he washes our objections away with an 
other torrent of visual energy, and when we begin to object again, 
another torrent, and so on. It is something like being on a beach and 
getting knocked down by a wave every time you try to regain your 
feet. It may not be the best swim of your life, but there is a kind of 
beauty in the sheer power of the surf. 

As with Lester's past work, How I Won the War and The Knack 
and the Beatles films, it is impossible to describe any one minute of 
Petulia in less than thousands of words. He works with a barrage of 
visual jokes, cross-references, contrapuntal strands, and mere mood 
inserts (like recurrent quick microscopic shots of mobile cells which 
suggest what we see with our eyes closed). I note a few indicative 
items. Through the main story he sifts in another story, telling us 
how Petulia brought back a Mexican boy from Tijuana. This under- 
story is breached in subliminal flashes, puzzling at first, until we see 
the relevance to Petulia's child-hunger. The first flashes are bewilder 
ing, as if we had stumbled on irrelevant privacies, but Lester is mak 
ing a mental model for us: showing us how strangers think things 



90 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

unknown to us and how, as we get to know them, we know some 
what more of what they are thinking. 

San Francisco is distilled, in this Technicolor film, almost as know 
ingly and humorously as London in Blow-Up. The Japanese garden in 
the large city park; cable cars, of course, but very briefly; rows of 
tract houses that stretch over hills like tombs in a giant graveyard. 
A blue-filter scene in a supermarket dawn evokes chilled inhumanity 
among the frozen foods. Background detail is touched in lightly, to 
make the city and the world: a pair of leathery lesbians drift across 
the fringe of a few scenes; the PA system in the hospital calls 
among the sick for a doctor to move his parked car; a puzzled 
hostess reveals her manipulated life in a glance when, from her din 
ing room in the distance, she watches Scott leave her husband's 
home suddenly. Lester works by a system of cinematic mosaic, a lot 
of swift whirling pieces that, through careful selection and their very 
number, resolve into pattern and hard surface. 

Much has been said about Lester's relation to TV-commercial 
style. In London (where he usually operates) there is a small club- 
restaurant off St, James's Street frequented by film directors where, 
Fm told, they meet and try to decide by details of style which of 
them made the commercials that were seen on the telly the previous 
night. These men include, or did for many years, the leading direc 
tors in England. Commercials have fed many of them literally and 
fed Lester in two senses. He uses the jam-packed clevernesses of our 
time to comment on the clevernesses of our time; to catch to exploit 
seriously the audience whose eyes and ears are whetted to those 
clevernesses. (Specialists say that the commercials are the most pop 
ular TV items with children. What will films be like twenty years 
from now?) He understands the psychology, the media orientations 
behind the clevernesses, and they are what interest him. To say that 
his pictures are only extended TV commercials is (in large analogy) 
something like saying that David Smith's sculpture is only aggrandized 
arc welding. 

My own reservations about the subliminal barrage are somewhat 
different. It seems to me that the quick-flash reference sometimes 
hinders imagination, instead of helping it: deprives both the actor 
and the audience of some rightful imaginative exercise. Everything is 
shown. (If Petulia had a line about heaving a rock through a window 
to get the tuba, and if Miss Christie could play it, it would be funnier 



INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE 91 

than showing the incident.) But the idea of tracing out the lightning 
of the mind on film is relatively new; needs exploration; and Lester 
is one of the best directors exploring it. 

Here he has spent his talents on inferior materials and performers. 
But at least Petulia frequently scintillates where, in lesser hands, it 
would have been pretty dull. 



Inadmissible Evidence 

(July 13, 1968) 

IF there is one thing that John Osborne can do, it's write dialogue. 
This is a handy knack in playwrights and not to be taken for granted 
even among famous ones. His play Inadmissible Evidence has faults, 
but one of them certainly is not pallid, clumsy, incredible, or trite 
dialogue. In speech, at least, he is proof that in England the line of 
John Marston is not dead yet. Osborne's particular brand of acid- 
torch rhetoric is the body of this play. He creates characters, sprinkles 
humor, and tells something of a story, but it is in the very texture of 
his language that the true drama resides. It is in the words blue- 
slashing through the air that he fixes the modern England that he 
would like with all his soul to loathe, if only he could. 

I saw Inadmissible Evidence in London and New York and each 
time was struck strongly with several matters. Here are some of them. 
The nightmare prologue, which is virtually a long monologue for 
Maitland, the solicitor hero, is really the play in capsule. It could 
be played separately and would give us the essence of Maitland and 
of Osborne's views on most of what follows; mainly, the rest of the 
play is varyingly successful articulation of what is compressed in the 
capsule. The mind of Maitland is really the arena of the play; every 
thing else exists there or else is significantly excluded. The character 
of Maitland embittered, self-hating, viciously funny, lecherous, lost, 
agonizingly self-aware is a plateau, not a cumulative growth. The 
exposition of that character goes on too long, but the wonder is that 
Osborne can find as much variety and nuance in it as he does. There 
is some tension or change going on between Maitland and almost 



92 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

every other character, yet the sense we get is not of dramatic progress 
but of dissection. The short scenes in which the clients appear and 
tell their troubles are excellent lives not merely summarized but 
distilled. The very existence of the play itself is a statement of social 
relevance: it is only eight years from Look Back in Anger to Inad 
missible Evidence, and Osborne has shifted in subject from the out 
sider looking in to the insider looking wistfully out. 

Whatever it lacks in cumulation and growth, the play is committed 
to its language and to its theater -form. This commitment is what is 
lacking in the film. Where the play had courage of conviction in its 
form, the screenplay by Osborne settles for imitating the form of 
many other films. The opening monologue is drastically condensed 
and partially replaced by (dream) sequences of Maitland en route to 
the dock; we are shown his home and his commuting; we see him 
frisking on the beach with his secretary; we see Maples the homo 
sexual being arrested in the subway lavatory, and so on. All this 
seems to me meek subservience to cliches of what makes films 
"visual." Osborne would simply snort if anyone tried to impose 
equivalent formulas on him in the theater. The play need not merely 
have been reproduced on film (although Peter Brook's Marat /Sade 
film showed that this or nearly this can be cinematically practi 
cal). But most of the cuts in the play weaken the film, and most 
of the expeditions simply state prosaically what had been vividly sug 
gested. Two "improvements" are particularly poor: the walks along 
ugly streets with ugly faces, to show how debased modern life is, 
are an unhelpful bow to early Tony Richardson; and yet again the 
strip-club scene. Britain now should ban scenes in strip-clubs to 
symbolize failed depravity. 

What is left of the play is often very pleasantly vitriolic and some 
times quite moving. Anthony Page, who directed both play and film, 
has again done well by his actors; his camerawork lacks the im 
mediate sense of self-assurance, of confident individuality, that his 
stage work had. Nicol Williamson presents a large portion of his 
original Maitland, surely one of the prodigious acting performances 
of the decade. (But the film diminishes him in a sense, besides con 
densing the role. In the theater he earned our added admiration for 
a marathon sustained effort; here we know it was all done in bits 
and pieces.) Isobel Dean as a divorcing woman is beautiful in her 
brief scene, but the script omits her character's fantasy reappearances 



FOR LOVE OF IVY 93 

that, in the play, bore out the opening fantasy mode. Eileen Atkins is 
fine as the disgusted mistress-secretary. There is one advantage in 
the perambulating film script; it gives us more of a chance to see 
Jill Bennett, the "permanent" mistress. She is warm, strong, but 
tender, just the kind of mistress that any right-thinking man would 
want and that a wry-thinking man like Maitland desperately needs. 

Osborne and Page have missed a chance in this film, I think. The 
original Inadmissible Evidence was too long for what it had to say 
the evidence was rather too admissible but it had its own sense of 
being, which is here badly cracked. A play that was conceived as 
an increasingly bad dream has been made into a grittily detailed, 
naturalistic film. The energy that went into making the picture 
"visual" would have been much better spent on developing the dream 
concept, rather than on pavements. The central image of the play 
Maitland trapped in his office, sinking in a swirling sea, sucking for 
life at the end of a telephone is lost. 



For Love of Ivy 

(August 10, 1968) 

For Love of 7vy, which stars Sidney Poitier, is based on an original 
story by Poitier. Original, that is, in the venerable Hollywood sense: 
"Let's make a new picture right down the middle of the old alley." 
Poitier is a big-shot gambler with a heart of gold who runs an honest 
business as a front. (Clark Gable? Spencer Tracy?) Two rich teen 
agers, brother and sister, cook up a plot to involve him with their 
family's maid (Claudette Colbert? Irene Dunne?) so that, with male 
attention to keep her from being restless, she'll be content to remain in 
their family's Long Island home. The gambler has to be blackmailed 
into meeting the maid; she is equally reluctant to meet him. Of course 
the pair are destined to fall in love. The only missing step in the 
formula is Loathing at First Sight. Instead we get here an immediate 
statement from both that they have no intention of marrying each 
other or anyone else. 

Naturally the formula has been given plenty of contemporary data. 



94 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

There are hip references and swinging dialogue. There is that bed 
scene which is now par for the intercourse. And at the end, no misty 
march to the altar, just a modish mutual resolve to stick together 
and see how things work out. But all the above is only new chromium 
on a standard model. Ivy is one more bonbon from never-never land 
except and the exception is the whole point this time the lovers 
are black. 

Already there has been some stiff comment about this film's be 
trayal of the principles of black liberation, about its subscription to 
bourgeois ideals and fantasies. Some of this comment has come from 
people who applauded Poitier's last picture, Guess Who's Coming 
to Dinner, a Stanley Kramer opus that rubbed long-lasting 5 Day 
deodorant all over that nasty race problem so that it could sit next 
to us at table. In my view Ivy is more honest and certainly more 
skillful. Unlike Kramer's picture, it does not temporize fantastically 
with grave issues, it opts completely for the fantastic. Under the well- 
spun floss it seems to be saying: "You want integration? OK, we're 
going to integrate you out of your minds. We're going to integrate 
with white America's heritage of twentieth-century pop myths." 

The only valid question for this film is: Does it use its myths well? 
Are we given two engaging vicars in a romance that we can vicari 
ously enjoy? The answer is yes. 

I missed, deliberately, Poitier's three other recent romances (of 
differing kinds): Lilies of the Field, A Patch of Blue, and To Sir 
with Love. Nothing I heard or read about them persuaded me that 
they were my brand of cop-out. I went to For Love of Ivy principally 
because the title role is played by Abbey Lincoln, who was quietly 
charming three years ago in Nothing But a Man (a far superior film) . 
She is even more charming here. 

As an actress Miss Lincoln is competent enough, but I would not 
be surprised to learn that, where the role exceeded her ability, it was 
tailored back to fit. She is not conventionally pretty, although she 
has lovely eyes. What she has is an irresistible personality: tender, 
vulnerable, humorous, and endearing. If she gets enough good parts 
that lie within range of her dignity and truth, I see no reason why she 
should not be the first big female Negro film star. There may not be 
much more to her than the convictions of her person, but they are 
enough to make her worth watching, pleasurably, for some time to 
come. 



FOR LOVE OF IVY 95 

Poitier leveled off as an actor quite a while ago, but it is a good 
level, always forceful and credible. As a star, he has entered into 
the tacit sex dialogue that is a requisite between a star and his audi 
ence. I saw the film at a matinee attended by lots of ladies of both 
colors and all ages. When Poitier stepped out of his car to make his 
entrance, a sigh went around the theater, an embrace of welcome. 
When Miss Lincoln visited his Playboy-type pad and he appeared in 
a V-neck pullover with no shirt beneath, there was a puzzled but 
expectant sigh. ("Why so unchic, Sidney? But of course you must 
have your reasons. Forgive us for doubting. We']! wait and see.") In 
the bed scene, where he seemed to be naked, I had to switch off my 
audience radar. Too lurid. 

Daniel Mann directed, and his outstanding quality here is his re 
liance on his stars. For instance, in the inevitable ultimate reconcilia 
tion after the inevitable penultimate quarrel, there is a long scene in 
which Poitier kneels next to Miss Lincoln's chair and talks her round. 
Mann very wisely just puts the camera on them, fairly close, leaves 
it alone, and lets their personalities work, which they do. 

The history of films is, in one aspect, the history of dangers and 
problems given ninety minutes of reprieve, whether runaway rail 
way trains or impregnable class barriers or the heroine's blindness 
that is cured in time for the final fadeout. We all enjoy it when well 
done because, briefly, it endows the chaos of the adult world with 
the order of the nursery. Here the subject of race has been fed into 
smooth, expensive romance, signifying that the concern about it is 
now widespread enough to breed widespread appetite for brief respite 
in both black and white (I was in a mixed audience); and signifying, 
too, that at least some Negroes have now reached a position to exer 
cise the franchises of genuinely mass fantasy. In Ivy, Cinderella 
has been updated, enough to make it topical, not enough to distort 
the power of the perennial myth. The result, whether we like the 
premise or not, is one of the most likable "movie" movies in the last 
few years. 



96 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Targets 

(August 31, 1968) 

PETER Bogdanovich is twenty-nine, the author of several brochures 
for the Museum of Modern Art Film Library and of numerous articles 
about film. He has now written, directed, and produced Targets and 
also plays a substantial role in it. As a film, it's minor; as a phe 
nomenon, significant. So far as I know, Targets is the first picture 
made in Hollywood by an American critic of the auteur school. France 
has had many new auteur directors hi the last decade, but Bogdano 
vich is the first American auteur to appear in the city that is a par 
ticular heaven for auteurs. All those Hollywood elements of com 
merce and popularity-groveling that seem restrictive to many of us 
have meant little to auteurs. Their chief concern is with the way a 
director handles the material he chooses or is assigned. Many of us 
think of Hollywood as, in general, the home of hacks or of good men 
hampered. Here is an intelligent, utterly hip young man who chooses 
Hollywood. His action and his beliefs have nothing whatsoever to do 
with that other group of young film makers, the Underground or 
Free Cinema. They are anti-Hollywood. The auteurs are, in one sense, 
the first pop artists and cultists, but with a difference: they can see a 
fourth-rate melodrama and know it is fourth-rate as a melodrama at 
the same time that they glory in the director's use of the camera and 
his expertness in film mythology. 

* Bogdanovich's story comes out of movies, flutters between movies 
and life, then goes back into movies. It weaves two chief strands. A 
famous star of horror films Boris Karloff more or less as himself 
wants to retire. A healthy young Californian goes off his rocker and 
shoots a lot of people with high-powered rifles before he is caught. 
The two men cross paths at the beginning, though only the killer 
knows it, and then face each other at the end. 

The contrast, of course, is between the fabricated horror of Karloff 
movies and the quiet horror of life, between the gloomy castles hi 
the Karloff film clips and the sun-drenched, Mustang-mounted 
murderer. (Reportedly, the use of Karloff and Karloff clips were con 
ditions set by the financial backer.) The strands are counterpointed 
throughout and finally join. In the last scene the mad youth, hi a 



TARGETS 97 

drive-in, is almost literally in a Karloff movie. He sits behind the 
screen, pokes a hole in it, and fires at the audience. Real death reaches 
them through the beam of the projector. 

This contrast may sound thin in description, but description is 
words. The story could exist only on film. It is the presence of Karloff, 
attended by thirty-five years of our memories, that is essential; no 
actor playing a Karloff type would have sufficed. The clips from 
Karloff films are this picture's mythic bona fides. To immerse Targets 
further in pertinent unrealities, Bogdanovich binds his picture closely 
to films and screens and viewing. The killer, lugging his bag of rifles 
to the top of an oil tank in order to shoot at the freeway, has to pass 
an abandoned studio back lot en route. He and his family sit watching 
a late-night TV show like communicants at a stupid and stupefying 
mass. Karloff and his young director in the story (played by Bog 
danovich, the director of this film) watch a segment of an old Karloff 
film on TV and praise the director, Howard Hawks, a god in the 
auteur pantheon. There are several references to well-known films. 
When the killer types a note, the camera gives us a huge close-up of 
the letters d, i, e appearing on the paper, just as the letters w, e, a, k 
appeared in Citizen Kane. KarlofPs Chinese secretary quotes an old 
Chinese proverb that is a Spanish proverb in The Philadelphia Story. 

Purely filmic qualities in Targets are used in still another way. The 
production designer, Polly Platt, coauthor of the original story (Bog 
danovich wrote the screenplay alone), has made the various settings 
carry considerable weight. Karloff's hotel suite feels luxuriously 
unfriendly. The killer's home looks like a colored-plastic, fully auto 
mated trap. In fact, the look of his San Fernando Valley is the only 
explanation of his behavior. The two or three mumbled lines about 
his troubled mental state are feeble. The real motivation is the choking 
material perfection of his home. And it is not a rich home; its anti 
septic, supermarketed tidiness is the middle-class fate. For me, the 
film's best achievement is in conveying or at least suggesting the 
killer's suffocation, as he makes the daily rounds of colored paper 
towels, snazzy wall ovens, wall-to-wall carpeting; thinking that this 
Saran-wrapped neatness is what lies ahead of him every single day of 
his life; thinking: Is this it? Is this all? And then boiling sideways in a 
violent effort to escape from the mechanism of the air-conditioned 
clock, murdering the warders who are part of this bloodless perfection. 
An added nice touch is that, after he kills his first three people, in his 



98 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

home, he lugs the bodies away and covers the stains with towels. It is 
an echo of what seems to have driven him mad to begin with. 

If I am reading more into this than Bogdanovich consciously 
intended, then he is reaping some benefits of the powerful suggestive- 
ness of film, which he does use consciously. But there are very serious 
drawbacks in this almost single reliance on sheer filmic powers. It 
can lead to the hyperspecialist, the man who knows one thing very 
well and little else, no matter how relevant. To the auteur the world 
is one huge film-studio prop room, from which he can select bits that 
will photograph well, virtually regardless of other considerations. I 
don't mean, in this case, social responsibility. Bogdanovich's dis 
tributors have pinned on a silly foreword to make the film seem an 
argument for gun control; they are apprehensive about one little sniper 
film in a country full of gunfire television, and newspapers and maga 
zines, a country in which a presidential candidate (Wallace) draws 
loud cheers by promising to run over any protester who lies in front 
of his car. 

No, the primary faults of Targets would exist if both of the Ken 
nedys and Dr. King and those people on the Texas campus were still 
alive. Bogdanovich just cooked up some clever ideas out of the 
backer's prerequisites and filmed them smoothly with little regard for 
credibility or conclusion. What is the point of this film, once the 
gimmicky juxtaposition has paled? Bogdanovich has little to tell us 
about this killer as artist, not sociologist. He uses the Karloff charac 
ter like a clumsy puppet. Why does Karloff suddenly want to retire? 
The chief reason would have applied long before that the real horror 
in the world has made him feel silly. The other reason, that he is 
passe, is patently untrue. And what has this retirement theme, which 
takes a good deal of time, to do with the story? And why in heaven 
does Karloff advance bravely on the trapped and armed murderer 
at the end? 

That advance, and the token wounds that he and his secretary get 
from the sniper who has been polishing off people hundreds of yards 
away, are Bogdanovich's deepest bows to Hollywood fantasy. 

And doesn't acting count for anything, even with a "visual" di 
rector? Nancy Hsueh, Karloffs secretary, is simply incompetent. 
Karloff as he says of himself 1 is no longer able to play a "straight'* 
scene. Bogdanovich caps his misperception of acting by casting him- 



TARGETS 99 

self as the young director, apparently in the belief that all one needs 
in front of a camera is the ability to be natural. 

Another curious point. Only the scenes of reference cinema 
history or social satire are credible. Virtually all the others are 
phony: those between Karloff and the secretary, the secretary and the 
director, the killer and his wife. Bogdanovich reveals little ability as 
yet to create anything of his own. He can only show us what he has 
seen. 

To argue for more than filmic content in films is taken by some as 
an argument for literary or theatrical film. But such new directors 
of the past decade as Bellocchio, Bertolucci, De Seta, Olmi, Jessua, de 
Broca, Lester, Teshigahara, and Nichols have shown that film can be 
truly film without being only film. Bogdanovich, however, has grown 
up in an esthetics that exalts manner over matter no, it tells us 
fundamentally that manner is all: that Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor 
and Nicholas Ray's Party Girl and Preminger's The Cardinal and 
Hitchcock's The Birds and Hawks's Hatari! are excellent art works 
because of the directors' styles, that objection to the tacky stories is 
misplaced because the film is not in the story but in "the relationship 
between the director and his material" (Gavin Millar). To me, this 
seems the equivalent of the theatrical legend about the great actor who 
could pulverize you by reading the telephone book. I have never 
had the luck to be thus pulverized, but the legend does not maintain 
that the ideal is to have great actors read telephone books. I am 
unconvinced that any of those directors is as good when (even 
because) he uses fourth-rate material as when he uses material and 
performers that satisfy other expectations in us as well.* 

It's good to welcome a new director with Bogdanovich's affinity 
for film making, his cinematic eye and appetite, his eagerness to edit 
incisively in short, a man with exceptional facility. But facility can 
be mere glibness in a director who has no self other than his skills 
and his "in" enthusiasms. As the expression of a self, of a whole 
man who lives in the world and uses film to convey that fact, Targets 
is weak: little more than a checklist of professional venerations. It is 
noteworthy mainly as the first slickly made feature by a young 
American who has got his education and his bearings, so to speak, at 
the movies. 

* There is further comment on the auteur theory in the review of Lola Mantes, 
page 160. 



100 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Hunger 

(September 7, 1968) 

IN the film of Knut Hamsun's Hunger, Per Oscarsson gives one of the 
most searing screen performances I can remember. Wonderful. But 
the film itself, in its treatment of the novel and in its direction, is not 
good enough for him or for Hamsun, whom he is serving. The effect 
is as if an actor were giving a full-bodied performance of a Shake 
spearean hero in a film of one of Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare. 

Hamsun's novel, published in 1890, is a work of genius. Among its 
achievements, it takes the figure of the artist out of the Romantic 
era, where he had served as a symbol of new sensibility, of individual 
ism wrenching loose from state and church and social orthodoxy, and 
plunges him into the consequences of his decision, thus opening up the 
twentieth century. I. B. Singer has pointed out the relationship be 
tween Hamsun's anonymous hero and Raskolnikov. (Can it be mere 
coincidence that a picture of Dostoevsky hangs on the editor's wall in 
the film?) Rereading the book, I was struck by the way it prefigures 
such modern fiction as Tropic of Cancer and the William Burroughs 
novels. (There is a fine new translation of Hunger by the poet Robert 
Ely, available in a Noonday paperback.) 

Hunger was Hamsun's first published novel, and, of course, its title 
denotes and connotes. It is an autobiographical work, telling of his 
early days as a young countryman in Christiania (now Oslo) when for 
days he had nothing to eat, when he chewed on scraps of paper or 
wood shavings or bones begged from butchers. It is also the story 
of his hunger to insist on his self. His famished body feeds his 
fantasies, as he struggles to scribble short articles, invents jocular 
relationships with passing policemen, invents and then realizes a 
dream of a girl, and trudges, trudges, trudges around the busy, 
cozy, wintry city. Possibly its supreme achievement is that the hero is 
never conscious of "dying for art," never calls himself an artist, never 
enounces any flowery ideals. Hamsun could do this because he knew 
that this novel itself written by the man it was about would prove 
that he was an artist. 

This correspondence is, essentially, what the film any film of this 
book lacks, since it is not an autobiographical film about a starving 



HUNGER 101 

young film maker. And it may be that, for this integral reason, the 
book is really unfilmable its essence is in its being a book. But to 
that basic difficulty the adapters, Henning Carlsen and Peter Seeberg, 
have added defects. They leave things unconcluded: what happened 
to the revised article that the editor wanted? They omit the walks into 
the country, which not only reunite the countryman with his origins 
but emphasize that the bulk of the book consists of his walking, or 
resting from walking. They omit the verse play that he writes fever 
ishly toward the end. They give no significance whatever to his 
departure on the ship at the end; it simply happens. 

And to all this Carlsen, who directed, adds more defects. Several 
times he keeps the camera on other characters watching the hero 
walk away, thus cracking the work's essential solipsism. He has cast 
as the girl Gunnel Lindblom, an actress whose hallmark is biting 
passion. When she takes the hero to her apartment and allows him to 
begin making love, we believe her; when she asks him to stop, we do 
not. The role needed a more reticent actress, so fascinated by the man 
as to breach her conservative behavior. Carlsen has some sympathy 
with the book and has tried, pretty conventionally, to reproduce some 
of its qualities, but much of the time his camera remains an observer, 
trying to make an art film. Hunger cries out for Bergman. How 
I wish he had made this film instead of Hour of the Wolf. The 
materials are not identical, but they suggest one another. Hamsun's 
epic of a rightly mad, lonely artist was made to order for Bergman's 
gifts of interior habitation. Which is what Carlsen's film generally 
lacks. 

But Oscarsson! Stiff, gaunt, ragged, proud, secretly gleeful, secretly 
desperate, he stalks through that gray city like a torch whose 
burning is invisible to everyone but us. That was the prime necessity 
for the role, I think the ability to ignite, to light a central flame 
that is confidently and carelessly there even when he is kowtowing to 
editors or begging for shelter or raving to old men in the park. He 
knows who he is. And this is what the girl senses in the unshaved, 
bespectacled young man with brown teeth and soiled clothes. It is not 
only sex, though sex he certainly emanates: it is uncomprehended 
awe on her part. All fully certified by Oscarsson. 

In 1966 Oscarsson won the Cannes Festival award for this per 
formance, a singular instance of sense in those prizes. The film was 
shown in the 1966 New York Festival, then waited two years for 



102 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

release. To read the Bly translation and then see Oscarsson for 
he has based his performance on the novel, not on the screenplay is 
an unforgettable experience. 

The music is by Krzysztof Komeda, Polansfci's customary com 
poser, and is very helpful. 

Incidentally, I wonder how it feels to be Norwegian and hear this 
Norwegian classic spoken in Swedish. Is it like being an Italian and 
hearing Manzoni in Spanish? 



Warrendale 

(September 21 ,1968) 

Warrendale is so moving, so fascinating and fine, that I hesitate to 
say what it's about. The moment I mention the subject, the reader 
will perhaps think that the film, is noble and worthwhile but that he is 
willing to take its worth for granted and spare himself. This would be 
self -cheating: not of information or duty but of humanity and, in a 
paradoxical way, of joy. Warrendale is a documentary about emo 
tionally disturbed children. It is not a study, it is not propaganda. 
It is an experience, passionate and compassionate. 

The title is the (former) name of a center in Ontario for disturbed 
children, not brain damaged or mentally defective children. In 1966 a 
Canadian film maker named Allan King was commissioned by the 
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to make a film about the place. 
He spent a month getting acquainted with the children in House Two. 
Then he brought in his cameraman, William Brayne, and his sound 
man, Russel Heise, for about two weeks of similar visits. Then 
they shot film for five weeks in and around the house. Out of forty 
hours of footage, this hundred-minute film was edited by Peter 
Moseley. Hurrah just plain simple hurrah for all of them. 

Most feature films are made by men who first create or help create 
or somehow acquire fictional scripts, and then guide actors and other 
artists to the fulfillment of the fiction. With a film like Warrendale, 
nothing can be created except a huge exception the confidence of 
the subjects. The film makers have to know, really, who their subjects 



WARRENDALE 103 

are, and the subjects have to believe it. Jn short, the prime requke- 
ment is not film talent as such, though these men have enough, but 
empathy, communion, credibility. The most brilliant film maker alive 
would have been powerless to make Warrendale without the con 
fidence of those children (and the adult staff). That confidence, in 
King and his colleagues, shines from the screen principally by virtue 
of the film's very existence. 

It starts with the counselor of the house, a young woman named 
Terry, waking the children one morning and having a tussle with a 
teen-age girl who refuses to get up, who pulls the blankets over her 
head and fights Terry. My reaction the first time I saw this film (I've 
seen it twice) was that the girl was perfectly right: who would want 
to get up when there was a camera grinding away in the bedroom? 
And I began to warm up all my prejudices against the intrusiveness 
of much cinema verite. But it didn't take long to see that my feeling 
was quite misplaced, that the girl's reaction was (one might say) 
natural she didn't want to get up just as naturally as if she and Terry 
had been alone. This is proved by the spontaneity of all the other 
actions in the picture, including many by that girl. The camera quite 
obviously became just another occupant of the house. At one point, 
one of the boys, blithely playing Red Light with some other children 
in the street outside, confides to the camera that he can see his 
friends' steps with his back turned because of the reflections in the 
lens. 

The basic Warrendale technique is "holding": when a child has an 
emotional seizure, an outsize tantrum, one of the attendants some 
times two or three pins his arms and legs and lets him rip. Com 
plete freedom of feeling is the essence, with restraint to keep the 
child from hurting himself and to provide a sense of physical contact, 
the caring of somebody else. We see this method used frequently with 
these volatile children. But, crucially, a foreword tells us that this is not 
a documentary about a technique, it is a personal, selective record of 
an experience. I have no idea whether the "holding" technique is good 
or bad therapy. I do know that King's film about the place where it 
was used brought me close, in a naked and tribal way, to five or six 
emotionally disturbed children. It revealed not only the personalities 
but the worth of these children. There's a boy named Tony, about ten, 
splay-toothed and curly-haired, whose every second expression is 
4 Tuck off," repeated in a pathetic defensive litany. When he's struggl- 



104 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

ing in the counselors* arms during one of his tantrums, swearing furi 
ously, I could only think, because of what I knew about him, even 
because of what he was doing at the moment and why he was doing it, 
"That's a wonderful kid. That's a terrific human being." King had led 
that boy on to film before then, had shown him playing and blushing 
and teasing and talking; now, because Tony was present, his tantrum 
seemed one of his ways to express an exceptional sensitivity. 

The film merely presents some events in the life of the house. The 
central point is the sudden death of the relatively young Negro cook, 
a woman evidently dear to everyone. The chief counselor decides to 
announce it to all the children at once, and the resulting scene is heart 
breaking but not in a bedlam horror sense. Before the meeting 
one of the counselors asks the chief how they can explain the death 
to the kids when they don't understand it themselves. What we see with 
the children is this bafflement and fright in extremis. All the children 
feel various kinds of guilt for the cook's death. This enormously 
amplified in them is something that all of us feel at sudden death, 
particularly of the young: not directly responsible, as the children feel, 
but haunted by the sense that we ought to have been able to do 
something. 

This experience is a model of the whole film. These children act 
out, in exaggerated and baroque ways, many feelings that other 
children other people feel and suppress or understand objectively 
and can control. These children have little objectivity or control and 
they just let go: guilt about having been unloved in their homes, as 
if they had earned neglect, as if they were undeserving of this place 
and its care; fear to love because of the fear of loss of the beloved; 
unbridled anger at the teeming mysteries of just one ordinary modern 
day's existence. Society has not (or not yet) given them the means 
to control their fears and to invent answers, as it has given to many 
adults and to the clergyman who presides over the cook's funeral. 

Any film that is an impromptu record is likely to have roughnesses 
and omissions. For instance, it's clear that King was caught slightly 
short because the cook died early in the filming and he had only a 
little footage of her. (Understandably, he shifts her death to a point 
near the end of the film; strict chronology in this matter was not 
important, and the film would have run downhill if he had followed 
it.) Some of the sound could be clearer, some of the sequences fuller. 
A few of the children are left virtually unnoticed, like a pretty teen-age 



WARRENDALE 105 

girl, flirtatiously dressed, who sits in the background chewing gum 
and reading magazines while other children are threshing about in 
counselors' arms. 

But much more bothersome are two extrinsic facts. The first is that 
the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, having commissioned this 
film, refused to show it because it contains often the words "fuck" 
and "bullshit." I hope that at least some members of the CBC felt 
that this decision was a fucking disgrace. Would it have been im 
possible to show this utterly humane, basically ennobling film late at 
night even if it meant canceling for one evening some acid-in-the- 
f ace private-eye thriller with scrubbed language? 

Second is the fact that Warrendale has now changed hands and 
methods, largely (I'm told) because of controversy over this film. 
I'm as incompetent to comment on the political questions as the 
therapeutic. I do know that, watching this film and knowing that at 
least some of the children have been moved and are being treated 
differently, I felt that something alive and organic and nourishing had 
been hurt. 

Last year we saw a documentary called Titicut Follies, made in a 
Massachusetts institution for the criminally insane, a picture that no 
doubt originated in a genuine impulse to expose oppressive condi 
tions but that, I thought, began to get some gawking kicks out of 
showing them. I mention that picture only to assure those who saw 
it or who wouldn't see it that Warrendale has not the slightest 
resemblance to it. It is not an expose, it is not a chamber of horrors. 
It is a union with some children who become very precious to us 
before the hundred minutes are up. Partly this is because they are in 
themselves interesting and they are allowed induced to be there; 
partly it's because they seem to be us, under a distorting magnifying 
glass. Jean Renoir has called Allan King "a great artist" not a bad 
compliment from a man who is a pretty fair artist himself. Inarguably, 
King has evoked those children's inner selves so powerfully on the 
screen that he has snared us up there, too. 



106 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

The Charge of the Light Brigade 

(October 12, 1968) 

THE light on Vanessa Redgrave's cheeks, John Gielgud as Lord 
Raglan clucking over the British Army like a father hen, the sunny- 
misty air above smooth English lawns, Trevor Howard as Lord 
Cardigan turning pink at offense, Jill Bennett as Mrs. Duberly saying, 
"Oh, glad!" when she and her husband are invited to dine on milord's 
yacht these are only some of the things I expect never to forget 
about The Charge of the Light Brigade. It's an extraordinary film, 
easily the best spectacle since Lawrence of Arabia and more am 
bitious than Lean's picture since it wants to dramatize not one man's 
life but a civilization. 

Cecil Woodham-Smith's celebrated book The Reason Why is given 
as the source of additional material, but it seems to me the source of 
virtually all the facts. Even some of the fictional material is adapted or 
arranged from facts that the book cites. The point of the film is to 
recreate mid- Victorian England in spirit and detail, to show how 
that spirit insisted on having a war, and how the most famous battle 
in that war, by its valor and stupidity, summed up the quality of the 
age. More than half the action takes place in England before the 
troops sail for the Crimea; Balaklava, says the film, is what England 
was heading for, the tea parties and balls as well as the drifts and 
parades. 

The picture's absolute triumph is the level of the acting. Gielgud is 
supreme: his Raglan goes far deeper than the caricature it might have 
been to become a genteel, gently shrewd, and finally failed man. Miss 
Redgrave, as a young officer's bride, continues to be magical; she can 
make us forget that she is acting at the same time that we admire her 
power to make us forget it. Trevor Howard's Cardigan is his best 
performance since Sons and Lovers, a perfect portrayal of a man 
with the power to exaggerate social conventions into dangerous 
lunacy. David Hemmings, despite his small size and unexceptional 
features, has fire and dash as Nolan, the officer who loves his friend's 
wife. Mark Burns has the right Victorian sweetness as his brother 
officer. Miss Bennett, as a gamesome officer's wife who follows her 
husband to war, spices the screen with elegant, nutty sexiness. In all 



THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE 107 

the large cast there is not one false note, but I want particularly to 
mention Roy Pattison, a veteran sergeant major who is wrecked by 
believing what the army taught him. 

Onward the compliments must roll. The script, by Charles Wood, 
in its scene-by-scene construction and its dialogue, is intelligent and 
literate. The sound track, handled by Simon Kaye, is so crisp we can 
almost taste it. The costumes by John Mollo and David Walker jump 
from the engraved page into daily use. The color camera of David 
Watkin is used exquisitely, particularly to capture the soft shine of 
Victorian photography (as on Miss Redgrave's face). And much 
praise must go to Tony Richardson, who directed. 

I've taken a great many cracks at Richardson since he entered 
films and I have some more to take here, but a lot of his work in Light 
Brigade is fine. Apparently he has been to school to Lean and 
Lawrence, but that was a good school for this film and Richardson 
has profited. He has learned especially how Lean plays off huge 
spectacle against huge intimacy to create a world. I don't mean the 
easy juxtaposition of vast panorama and tight close-up; I mean the 
delicacies of individuality poised against the immensity of history. 

Richardson has succeeded better with the intimate than the pano 
ramic. For instance, there is a lovely scene in the doorway of a country 
house where Miss Redgrave stops her lover, Hemmings, who is about 
to join her husband in the garden, to tell him that she is pregnant. We 
follow the pair as they step behind the open door, then they move to 
the front of the door and we see them through the gauze curtain, 
then we come around to join them, and we remain with her as he 
finally goes out into the garden. That little sequence of actor and 
camera movements, not quite parallel, curved in soft arcs, is a mute 
comment on the poignant helplessness of the pair. When Hemmings 
lay dead on the battlefield, I remembered his face through the cur 
tained cottage door. 

The direction of the Crimea sequences (actually shot in Turkey) is 
less secure. Richardson here seems more to know what he wants than 
to be able to get it. But some of this is because large-scale battle 
scenes are doomed to remoteness. Whether it's Borodino in War and 
Peace or Balaklava here, they always seem to reduce to the same 
shots in differing uniforms: the Alexander Nevsky shot, in which the 
camera rolls along looking down a line of advancing riders; the cannon 
exploding in our faces; the quick glimpses of men with lances through 



108 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

their guts; the riderless horses; the ground-level shots of the dead. 
The big film battle has become a ritual, rather than an experience, 
often confusing and usually too long. (Having gone to all that 
expense, they're not going to use only a couple of minutes' footage 
out of it.) About all that ever really works is the long, wide horizon 
shot, which conveys only size, not heat. Richardson adds to the diffi 
culty of making the battle our battle by including some shots from 
the Russian viewpoint. They only reminded me that Ensign Tolstoy 
was involved in this war, and so confused my sympathies. 

And this brings me to other shortcomings. Richardson's Social 
Significance touch has not become exactly light. His contrasts of 
London poverty and aristocratic luxe are plunked down more heavily 
than they were in Tom Jones, the difference between soldiers' squalor 
and officers' privilege is troweled on. He has also hit on the really 
abominable idea of using animated cartoon sequences to convey facts 
and cover transitions. These cartoons blot the visual texture of the 
film; they distract us and jolt us back to a movie theater; and worst 
of all their blatant satire weakens the self-satire that the film other 
wise achieves through realistic fidelity. Who needs cartoons about 
Victorian stuffiness when we have seen a scandal in an officers' mess 
because a captain allows wine to be put on the table without decant 
ing? Further, the cartoons oversimplify the causes of the war. British 
jingoism and wealth and bumptiousness were largely responsible, but 
another important reason was Liberal revulsion at Russia. It was 
vividly remembered in England that the czar had helped to suppress 
the revolts of 1848 and had helped Austria to suppress Kossuth's 
revolt in Hungary in 1849. This Liberal motive in the Crimean War is 
left out of the cartoons out of the entire film. 

And finally, Light Brigade falters in the intent mentioned earlier 
to show that Victorian society itself produced the tragedy at Balaklava. 
This idea just doesn't fit the facts. The costly blunder was not the 
result of class privilege or purchased commissions or inhuman treat 
ment of troops. (Indeed we see the survivors of the charge asking to 
"go again.") It was due, first, to a failure by the goodhearted and 
thoughtful Raglan to make himself clear and, second, to an ambiguous 
statement in the heat of battle by Captain Nolan the most progres 
sive and humane officer of the lot! The Crimean War, after Britain 
muddled through, did eventually bring about various reforms, but 
the fiasco of Balaklava was not directly caused by the ills that were 



WEEKEND 109 

later reformed. So, thematically, the picture is inconclusive and leaves 
us feeling itchy, unsatisfied. 

But if it's less than the sum of its parts, many of those parts are 
splendid. It's not to be missed and, I think, not to be forgotten. 



Weekend 

(October 19, 1968) 

BY far the best pro-Godard commentary I know is Susan Sontag's 
essay in the Spring 1968 Partisan Review. I reread it between my 
two viewings of Weekend. Miss Sontag sketches the adverse criticism 
of Godard ("What his detractors don't grasp, of course, is that 
Godard doesn't want to do what they reproach him for not doing"); 
then she examines these points, attempting to show that the supposed 
faults are part of Godard's method. Miss Sontag overlooks the fact that 
some adverse critics assume that Godard works with intention but 
that intentionality does not itself create an esthetics; still her argu 
ments, all relative to Weekend, are the best critical support for Godard 
that I can imagine. 

On the matter of Godard's flashy use of ideas and of literary 
references: 

Certainly ideas are not developed in Godard's films systematically. . . . 
They aren't meant to be. In contrast to their role in Brechtian theater, ideas 
are chiefly formal elements in Godard's films, units of sensory and emo 
tional stimulation. . . . What's required is that literature indeed undergo 
its transformation into material, like anything else. 

This does not exactly contravene the objection by many, including 
me that Godard is irresponsible in his use of explosive political ideas 
and callow in his literary display. It says that he is masticating these 
matters into fodder for cinema; that he treats, say, Mao and Dostoev- 
sky as he would treat a tree, a flower, a kiss. I think this approach is 
antihistorical, antiintellectual, and finally anticultural, but it does have 
an imperial bravado. 
On the ceaseless display of Godardian "effects": 



110 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

. . . Godard proposes a new conception of point of view, by staking out 
the possibility of making films in the first person. By this, I don't mean 
simply that his films are subjective or personal. . . . [He] has built up a 
narrative presence, that of the film-maker, who is the central structural 
element in the cinematic narrative. This first-person film-maker isn't an 
actual character in the film. . . . He is the person responsible for the 
film who yet stands outside it as a mind beset by more complex, fluctuating 
concerns than any single film can represent or incarnate. . . . What he 
seeks is to conflate the traditional polarities of spontaneous mobile think 
ing and finished work, of the casual jotting and the fully premeditated 
statement. 

That is a sympathetic description of Godard's effort to make every 
film a record of his experience in making the film, of the tension he 
wants to convey between the film and the world, of his frenzied in 
sistent drive to treat film as if it were not a photographic record, fixed 
before we see it, but something happening at the moment we see it 
a response to everything around the film and in Godard at every 
moment. (In Weekend there is a brief flash of some Italian actors 
"stranded" from an Italian-French coproduction. Weekend is such a 
coproduction. The shot is a spontaneous impulse, irrelevant to the 
story, an attempt to get the "outside" of the film inside.) What Miss 
Sontag disregards is that even the Divine Comedy was created by a 
mind beset by more complex, fluctuating concerns than that poem 
could incarnate, that Godard's struggle for seeming spontaneity is 
doomed because no film is a spontaneous event and because the 
effort to seem spontaneous can get wearisome. With Godard we be 
come aware of the desperation, of the fixed and photographed 
impromptu. 

I cannot summarize all of Miss Sontag's article (it should be read), 
but, for me, it leads to and away from this sentence: 

Just as no absolute, immanent standards can be discovered for determin 
ing the composition, duration and place of a shot, there can be no truly 
sound reason for excluding anything from a film. 

This seemingly staggering statement is only the extreme extension of a 
thesis that any enlightened person would support: there are no 
absolutes hi art. The Godardians take this to mean (like Ivan Kara- 
mazov) that therefore everything is permissible. Others of us take it 



WEEKEND 111 

to mean that therefore standards have to be empirically searched out 
and continually readjusted, to distinguish art from autism; that, just as 
responsive morals have to be found without a divine authority if 
humanity is to survive, so responsive esthetics have to be found with 
out canonical standards if art is to survive. The last may be an open 
question, but it is open as long as men continue to make art. 

Godard is grateful, I hope, to Miss Sontag for her effort to give 
esthetic order to a method that is essentially impulsive and whimsical. 
Her arguments are ingenious and erudite, but I think they end up as 
rationalizations, not analyses. Take Weekend, for example. Miss 
Sontag would say that it purposefully "conflates" casual jottings and 
premeditated statements. To me it is a film by a prodigiously gifted 
man who had a general plan, held it to for a while (with some stunning 
results), then became impatient and increasingly self-indulgent to 
keep from being bored. 

Weekend begins as a relatively formal social satire, very sharp. A 
Parisian couple are going to drive to the country on the weekend 
to see the wife's rich mother and try to get a share of her estate. They 
are venal, callous, disloyal. Each secretly loathes the other, each has a 
lover. (In an early scene the wife, in bra and panties, describes at 
dreamy length a sex orgy she had with another pair while her lover 
takes notes. This may be a takeoff on Bibi Andersson's sex story in 
Persona; if so, it proves that Bergman understands sex better.) Before 
the couple start out, there are some minor car accidents with dis 
proportionately furious quarrels, very funny. They run into a huge 
traffic jam in the country, again very funny, and this sequence ends 
with a reversal of the opening: a dreadful accident that is taken 
lightly. Cars matter; people don't. More and more bad accidents 
appear on the edges of the film and begin to sift into the center, until 
the couple are adrift in a world gone mad with automotive homicide. 

Through this point there is plenty of Godard apparatus: visual 
puns, the characters say they're in a movie, lots of literary references 
(including Joseph Balsamo out of Dumas), and so on. But it's a con 
sistently developing story. Only about midway does the film really 
become "first person" in Miss Sontag's sense as it begins to include 
"everything." The turning point is a scene in which a pianist plays a 
Mozart sonata in a barnyard (no, I'm not going to explain that) 
while the camera executes two slow 360-degree pans that have 
already made some movie buffs gasp with admiration. From there on, 



112 FIGURES OF LIGHT 



the film sweeps up everything that Godard encounters or imagines as 
he tells something of a story about the disintegration of society be 
cause of the breakdown of cars. We see the rise of young revolu 
tionaries dressed as Indians who kill and die with the aplomb familiar 
from Les Carabiniers. Politics gets spouted, by an Arab and a black, 
but these speeches, Miss Sontag has warned us, are not to be taken 
seriously as politics they are merely part of the film's materials, 
included because they are in the world. 

Weekend goes on too long, which means only that Godard's im 
provisations and spontaneous responses on his theme grow tired 
before he stops. The earlier razor-slashing satire has long since dis 
integrated into a grabbing at straws of shock. But much of it is 
Godard's keenest conception and best execution, the present-future 
of Alphaville turned into the future-present. 



Romeo and Juliet 

(November 2, 1968) 

FRANCO Zeffirelli, who directed Romeo and Juliet, is temperamentally 
a Victorian. His idea of Shakespearean production is to heap on 
things fabrics, scenery, lighting effects, complicated props in a way 
that would have delighted Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean at their London 
theater in the 1850s. If only the Keans could also have had real 
places, as ZefBrelli has, they would have been deliriously happy. 

So Zefiirelli is better off on film than he was with his Old Vic 
production of Romeo. On stage, clever as many of the effects and mob 
scenes were, the cleverness was quickly outweighed by the inade 
quate rendering of the play itself. The same thing happens in the 
film, but more slowly. Here Zeffirelli has chunks of Italy to interpose, 
and more extensive acrobatic swordplay and plentiful gorgeous old 
architecture. All this not only postpones our discovery of the hollow- 
ness of the production, it gives him a valid excuse. "Well," he says 
figuratively, "you can't have everything. Look at how much Renais 
sance I gave you. The two hours are almost up. Have to cut the text a 
bit, if you don't mind." Many Victorian productions whittled the 



ROMEO AND JULIET 113 

play, too, though not in the same way. They made cuts to magnify 
the stars; here the cutting is done to give the stars less very little 
of the "Bid me leap" speech, for instance, and not one word of the 
potion scene. Also, no apothecary scene, no Paris in the tomb, etcetera. 
The text is fairly well held through the midpoint, then we are whooped 
along to a conclusion. 

As a chef of feasts for the eye, Zeffirelli is Cordon Bleu. (Much 
better here than in his previous abomination, the Burton-Taylor 
Taming of the Shrew.) As a director of Shakespeare, he simply doesn't 
exist. He's not an innovator like Peter Brook, he's an evader. He has 
no ear, no insight, no interest in the delicate centers of the play. He 
supplies a lush pageant that uses Shakespeare's story and large patches 
of the text. But in terms of a drama that is intricate with ideas of 
fate, a tragedy that is contained in its language, not in a synopsis of its 
plot, this just is not Romeo and Juliet 

In a sense this picture only proves again that the film medium 
and Shakespeare are born antagonists; no Shakespearean film has 
ever proved otherwise, though some have worked out better truces 
than this one. But Zeffirelli is not just a hapless victim of esthetic 
circumstances. He is a directorial charlatan who thinks that, by a lot 
of Tarzan tree climbing in the balcony scene or by Mercutio's splash 
ing around in a fountain, he is revitalizing a poor old musty play. 
Certainly there are other ways to do Shakespeare besides the tradi 
tional, but not to do him isn't one of them. 

The crux is in his casting of the two principals. Zeffirelli selected 
two unknowns, Leonard Whiting, seventeen, and Olivia Hussey, 
sixteen, who are billed as "the youngest performers ever to play the 
roles professionally." Nonsense. For just one example, Master Betty 
played Romeo at Covent Garden in 1805 when he was thirteen 
(see Giles Playf air's The Prodigy). His purpose was to get ap 
propriate youth in those parts, which indeed is usually lacking. He 
succeeded; in fact, some of the few poetic moments in the film are 
close-ups of Miss Hussey's face magnificent eyes as long as she 
keeps her mouth shut. Unfortunately this young pair often open their 
mouths. They have tinny voices, harsh accents, don't understand 
much of what they are saying, they haven't a clue about reading verse, 
and they are abysmally amateur actors. They epitomize Zeffirelli's 
approach to direction: gorgeous surfaces. 

Milo O'Shea bumbles along as Friar Laurence, very little different 



114 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

from his Bloom in Ulysses. John McEnery's Mercutio is a street cor 
ner showoff, not the quintessence of courtier's panache. Michael 
York and Paul Hardwick are acceptable as Tybalt and Capulet. The 
best performance is the most conventional one Pat Heywood play 
ing the Nurse with the stock cockney accent. Robert Stephens, as the 
Prince, struggles nobly under a funny hat. 



Funny Girl 

(November 9, 1968) 

MILLIONS of people will now see Barbra Streisand whole. Thousands 
have seen the whole Streisand on Broadway in Funny Girl, but many 
more have seen her only in TV specials that sliced her neatly down 
the middle and presented only the singer, the fashion plate and dish. 
In the film of Funny Girl they will also get Streisand the comic the 
Jewish comic, a superior Jackie Mason in drag and will thus under 
stand her immense success, which may have been puzzling them. 
As a singer she is good, but not good enough to keep from being a 
bit tedious in a long special. Her singing, which is mostly a la Garland, 
seems much better as the additional talent of a good comic, and her 
comedy seems better when we know she is a good torchy singer. In 
one person, Punch and Judy. 

The film itself is rotten, but so was the Broadway show. The songs 
are mediocre, the book worse. (It's based, need I say, on the life of 
Fanny Brice.) William Wyler, a generally able director, has done his 
creakiest work here, full of slow sentimental dissolves and strained 
attempts to make like Minnelli and Donen (for instance, different 
stanzas of a song sung in different locales). As for the "straight" 
sequences, it's hard to believe that the man who controlled the hokum 
so beautifully in the last scene of Roman Holiday could have been so 
paralyzed by hokum here. Harry Stradling, whose camera ladled 
Technicolor gravy all over My Fair Lady, keeps ladling along. Omar 
Sharif plays Nicky Arnstein. What a performance! Isn't there enough 
trouble between Jews and Egyptians? 

The whole feeble enterprise needs to be carried, and the point is 



BEYOND THE LAW 115 

that Miss Streisand is well able to carry it. She's a bit irritating because 
she is evidently conceited evidence that filters through from the 
screen, not from the press and it's always irritating when a conceited 
person is as good as he (she) thinks. A further point: the social im 
portance of Miss Streisand's face. Now we're being told with a 
predictable reverse twist that she is not really homely, that her 
talents make her beautiful. This is just word juggling. What is the 
theme of the show other than a homely girl's problems and triumphs? 
Why else was Miss Streisand, a relative unknown at the time, cast in 
the Broadway show originally? And she is Jewish homely. To dis 
regard both these elements is to disregard the importance of Miss 
Streisand's emergence, not only as a star but as a sex figure. This 
would have been impossible forty years ago for Fanny Brice herself, 
who was at least as talented as Miss Streisand and rather prettier. 



Beyond the Law 

(November 16, 1968} 

I DON'T really want to review Norman Mailer's new film, but I'd like 
to say why. Beyond the Law is one more piece of almost maniacal 
self-indulgence, abetted by Mailer's idolatrous friends, without merit 
or interest except as it affords a peek, for those who care, into the 
private games of Mailer and pals pretending to be cops and criminals 
and hippies. (George Plimpton appears briefly as himself pretending 
to be the Mayor who visits the police station where a lot of it happens. 
Alan Alda is better as Plimpton, in Paper Lion, than Plimpton is.) 

Those who are dedicated to finding value in everything that Mailer 
does can find more of it here, I'm sure. Those who find something of 
verite in every foot of film that's exposed by egotistical amateurs can 
write their reams about this picture's relevance to role playing in 
modern life. Good luck to them. I take this film simply as part of the 
price for having Mailer around. He splashes about, he jostles, he 
elbows, he irritates; in his ambition (announced at the last New York 
Film Festival) to be a Renaissance man, he overlooks one small detail 
the archetypal Renaissance man, Leonardo, didn't merely work 
in several fields, he was good in all of them. 



116 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

But Mailer is also the man who wrote The Armies of the Night and 
Miami and the Siege of Chicago in one year. Those books particu 
larly the first are not exactly free of arrogance and solecism, but 
they are the outpourings of a potentially large writer who has at last 
found his moment. Ever since the Second War, about which he wrote 
the best American novel, he has always been just out of step: a 
Depression child when the Depression mind-set no longer applied; a 
Jew when it became difficult to suffer in America for being Jewish; 
a white man when the drama became black; a middle-aged man when 
the action became young. With the Pentagon march last year and the 
political conventions this year, the man and the moment coincided, 
and as an author, he became what he has always longed to be, an 
agonist-prophet of our time, embodying many of us in his ego, 
possessed by burning insight. 

It's silly to wish he would stop making films, as it would be silly to 
wish he would stop writing his time-filling fiction or embarrassing 
articles like the defense of his friend Podhoretz's Making It in Partisan 
Review. One might as well wish that he would stop getting drunk hi 
public. His films are part of the same urge, I think a frenzy to grab 
at everything, every possibility of sensibility and power: which he 
tries to hide under the label "Renaissance man." I don't review his 
adolescent binges in life, and I don't see any reason to review his 
Dreams of Glory films. But after I saw Beyond the Law and was 
ready once again to write off Mailer as one more man exploded out 
of his head by the sheer size of contemporary experience, I read the 
Miami-Chicago book. Here's a passage hi which he explains why 
Chicago people remind him of the people in Brooklyn where he 
grew up: 

. . . they were simple, strong, warm-spirited, sly, rough, compassionate, 
jostling, tricky and extraordinarily good-natured because they had sex in 
their pockets, muscles on their backs, hot eats around the corner, neighbor 
hoods which dripped with the sauce of local legend, and real city archi 
tecture, brownstones with different windows on every floor, vistas for 
miles of red-brick and two-family wood-frame houses with balconies and 
porches, runty stunted trees rich as farmland in their promise of tender 
ness the first city evenings of spring, streets where kids played stick-ball 
and roller-hockey, lots of smoke and iron twilight. The clangor of the late 
nineteenth century, the very hope of greed, was hi those streets. London 
one hundred years ago could not have looked much better. 



YELLOW SUBMARINE 117 

OK. If we have to have Mailer's films (he has just finished another) 
as part of the price of an author who can cascade like that, OK. 



Yellow Submarine 

(November 16, 1968) 

LOVELY Beatles. They not only do beautiful things themselves, they 
have a gift for finding other gifted people. When they went into films, 
they found Richard Lester, exactly the right director for them. Now 
they have produced an animated cartoon feature, and they have 
found a staff of artists under Heinz Edelmann to do the drawings and 
collages. I don't know how I knew what a Beatles animated film ought 
to look like, but the moment Yellow Submarine began, I knew Edel 
mann and Company were exactly right. 

The screenplay is by four authors. This must be because four 
different fancies had to dream up the assortment of odd creatures that 
tumble through. It couldn't have taken four men to devise the plot 
itself, which might have been invented and often has been by your 
little nephew Willie. The story opens in idyllic Pepperland, as it is 
invaded by Blue Meanies. The conductor of the Sergeant Pepper 
Band flees in a Yellow Submarine, which surfaces in Liverpool and 
takes the Beatles aboard. There are wild encounters with various 
wild characters: Snapping Turks, whose waistbands yawn wide to 
disclose rows of shark teeth, the Ferocious Flying Glove, from whose 
index finger come lightning bolts; the Count Down Clown with the 
suction nose, and many more. There are lots of well-known Beatles 
songs on the sound track, including the two that I guess are my 
favorites, the title song and Eleanor Rigby, and there are three new 
numbers. 

Fine. The only discomfort in the film is a slight disproportion in the 
Beatles' basic mixture. What has always charmed me about them 
is their combination of blitheness and compassion. Their cool about 
loneliness and stupidity and cruelty makes their songs on these 
subjects all the more effective. Here some of the story and the trap 
pings particularly toward the end get softened with a dash of 



118 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Disney. Love probably is the best thing that our culture has invented, 
but the Beatles have usually managed to say it airily. Here the mes 
sage sometimes plops a bit. 

Well, let it plop. This film, like so much that the Beattles do, is 
both unexpected in their careers and delightful. If you have kids, 
prepare to share them now. Yellow Submarine really fulfills the oft- 
stated claim it's for people of all ages. To be able to make that kind 
of picture must take some rare quality of soul. 



Bullitt 

(November 23, 1968) 

MAYBE the police film is trying to tell us something. In the twenties 
and thirties such a film was often about an immigrant family, usually 
Irish, with a father on the force and at least two sons. One of them 
followed in Pop's beat-steps and became a good cop; the other became 
a cop and went crooked, or else saved time and went crooked at 
once. In either case the last scene was brother against brother, and 
you know who won. Overtly the story told us about the virtue of virtue, 
and, underneath, it was thrumming away about the sure rewards of 
conforming to the American Dream. 

The police film still tells us about keeping noses clean and badges 
bright, but with a more complex basic message. Even before we get to 
basics, there are lots of surface changes. The police commissioner in 
Madigan has a mistress, and Richard Widmark, in the title role, has 
new-fashioned marital troubles. Frank Sinatra in The Detective has a 
nympho wife whom he loves hopelessly. Jewish cops, with Jewish 
mamas and wives, are very much in George Segal in No Way to 
Treat a Lady and Jack Klugman in The Detective. Presumably this is 
to show us that Jews are neither cowards nor job snobs. Lots of other 
details and plot twists race conflicts and candor about homo 
sexuality, for instance help to bring these films up to date. 

But these are easy accommodations, in milieu and minutiae. The 
fundamental view has also been changing, and this is neatly exempli 
fied in Bullitt. Put simply, the new view is the policeman as private 



BULLITT 119 



eye. Steve McQueen plays Bullitt, a regular detective of the San 
Francisco police, but every atom of his being and a great deal of his 
behavior belong to the loner, the cool Hammett-Chandler-Bogart cat. 
(They all collaborated on the persona.) The private eye was the 
realist's hope for intelligence and some justice against the uniformed 
forces of stupidity. He stood in relation to the police as the man who 
really sees the score against those who see only the rulebook, and his 
life style suited his life view. Now we have McQueen, a plainclothes 
cop, dating a swinging chick with whom he visibly beds, driving a 
sports car (borrowed), living in a pad, dressing sharp, and, like 
Sinatra's detective, making his own rules as far as possible. He looks 
and lives like an independent operator. 

One drift of this change may be to make respectability respectable, 
to show (particularly to the young) that law and order are not 
necessarily Dullsville. Underneath this possible propagandists motive, 
however, the change dramatizes another, deeper tide of the times: not 
so much the liberalization of the square as the engulfment of the free. 
Just as the most avant-garde art these days is quickly swamped with 
suburban acceptance, so the cynical private eye fighting for truth, 
sometimes against the nominal forces of truth gets engulfed by the 
civil service. The last line of the official Warner Bros, synopsis: "By 
good detective work, Bullitt has cleared up the case while main 
taining his integrity in the face of a threat to his career." No PR man 
could ever have written that about a Bogart film. When Bogey cleared 
up a case, it was so he could be free to tell anybody to go to hell. The 
real finish of the Bullitt synopsis is: Be reasonable. See how enlight 
ened we are these days. You can have freedom a reasonable amount, 
anyway inside the organization. Be reasonable. 

In the Broadway-Hollywood phrase, the picture is "smartly 
produced." It uses modish decor and much modish film technique, 
with about equal seriousness. The script is odd in one respect. It's 
full of sharp TV backchat, but its central gimmick is obscure, and the 
authors make the hero professionally stupid. This fellow who lives 
like a panther doesn't have the police brains of a backwoods rookie. 
When he is warned that a killer is loose in the hospital where he is 
guarding a wounded man, he bumbles the protection. When he knows 
that a dangerous fugitive is on a plane at an airport, he doesn't call 
for men to surround the plane. And there are further phoninesses: 
social-political comment is laid on with high-school irony in the per- 



120 FIGURES OF LIGHT 



son of an ambitious politician. (At the end this man rides off in a 
limousine and unfolds the Wall Street Journal! Just the sort of paper 
a rat like that would read.) And there is a long high-speed auto chase 
through San Francisco, full of visceral quivers but quite false because, 
as I remember, not one pedestrian was visible, even on the side 
walks. Such a chase through the normal streets of San Francisco 
would have ended in deaths much sooner than it does. 

The director, Peter Yates, is clever enough to give the whole film 
a smear of style, none of it his own. McQueen moves lithely through 
his part, depending quite a lot on the flatness of his stomach. 



Faces 

(December 14, 1968) 

JOHN Cassavetes has made two independent films Shadows (1960) 
and now Faces which are concerned with unvarnished truth, so it's 
curious that in both of them he does some varnishing. Shadows main 
tained that it was entirely improvised, but this seemed questionable. 
Faces is very much better; still there are things in it that contradict 
its air of candor and brute fact. 

Cassavetes (who is also an actor currently to be seen as Rose 
mary's husband in Rosemary's Baby) spent several years making 
Faces in and around his Los Angeles home. The theme is well-heeled 
America's frustrations, sexual and spiritual, their sublimations and 
palliatives. This is John O'Hara country, and Cassavetes' method is 
a film cognate of O'Hara's process of selective eavesdropping. 

The nub of the story is one night spent apart by a middle-aged 
couple who have quarreled. He sleeps with an expensive call girl. 
The wife, with some matronly friends, picks up a stud at a go-go 
joint, and the stud chooses to stay with her. In the morning the hus 
band comes home, the stud (a rather goodhearted fellow) flees, and 
the couple are once again under the same roof. But only literally. Cas 
savetes has used a hand-held camera most of the time, lighting that 
deliberately looks like hurried TV-newsreel setups, and editing that 



FACES 121 

strives for a sense of snatch-and-grab. He wants to create a feeling 
of intrusion into actuality, and he often succeeds. The sexy itching 
restraints of semidrunk businessmen, always on the verge of violence 
or self-pity around call girls, are microscopically well done, if over 
done. The long scene with the stud and the four ladies is obscene, 
not in what happens but in the degradation most of them feel at what 
they wish would happen. The silly jokes between the husband and 
wife convulse the pair with their very silliness, a currency of inti 
macy between two people who know each other well. Almost all of 
these scenes go on too long, but a good deal is admirably unsparing, 
disgusting, poignant. 

Yet for all the cinema verite thrust of the film, the best element in 
it is not factualism but contrived art: the performances of the couple 
by John Marley and Lynn Carlin. Not all the hand-held cameras or 
jagged editing in the world could provide the reality created by Marley 
and Miss Carlin. (She has never acted before; I certainly hope she 
acts again.) And the difference between texture-truth and perform 
ance-truth is shown in reverse by Gena Rowlands (Mrs. Cassavetes) 
as the call girl. Miss Rowlands is photographed with the same verite 
but comes out embarrassed and unconvincing. (Not the character's 
insecurity, the actress's.) 

Aside from Miss Rowlands and the scenes that Cassavetes lets 
run too long, his ruthless honesty seems to me somewhat compro 
mised. There is a prologue in which the Marley character goes to a 
screening room to see a film he's in the picture business then sees 
Faces, with himself, the character, in the leading role. There is no 
return or conclusion to this idea. This worlds-within-worlds touch 
seems heavy symbolism in a naturalistic film. The quarrel between the 
married couple that drives them apart for the night seems trumped 
up and thin, insufficient to produce such drastic results in this couple. 
And those results each one finding a mate at once have the in 
stant symmetry of any factitious script. The call girl has that inter 
changeable heart of gold that is transplanted from one fictional whore 
to another with an ease that must make Dr. Christiaan Barnard green. 

Still a good deal of Faces is highly effective, even valuable as social 
history. Marley and Miss Carlin supply some of that history in their 
performances, Cassavetes supplies some with his seemingly snooping 
camera. 



122 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Up Tight 

(December 21, 1968) 

JULES Dassin's Up Tight, financed by Paramount, is the first big- 
money film (as against several underground films) to tell uncom- 
promised truth about black feelings in this country today. Not all the 
truth (what is all?); but, as far as I know, every aspect of black 
thought that this film treats is treated candidly. It* s quite an experi 
ence to hear the political sentiments in Up Tight coming from a film- 
that begins with that same old Paramount insignia, the lofty peak 
circled by calm stars. 

The picture takes place in Cleveland and begins on the day of Dr. 
King's funeral in April, 1968. The camera pushes into the black com 
munity of the city very few whites in the film probing the varied 
reactions. (There is no mention that Cleveland has a black mayor, 
but for those who remember this fact, the implication is that, for 
militants, Mayor Stokes is irrelevant.) The militants feel that non 
violence has brought about its own demise in violence, and they are 
preparing an armed outburst. A veteran black "gradualist" tries to 
reason with them. A white radical who has marched in Alabama 
and been jailed in Mississippi is expelled simply because he is white. 
(Later on, we get a glimpse of the come-to- Jesus religious escape 
hatch as the script tries to touch every element of black feeling. ) The 
film moves unequivocally toward a finale of revolutionary resolve, 
with inevitable race war as its conclusion. Radical social revision 
would obviate that conclusion, but the militants don't expect that 
from whites. Up Tight tells it as the militants feel it must go. There 
is no Stanley Kramer on handor, for that matter, no Bill Cosby or 
Sidney Poitier to make it all come out merely ironic or possibly 
rosy. The heated irons are there. 

But Up Tight is based on Liam O'Flaherty's novel The Informer, 
from which John Ford's famous 1935 film was made. I say "but" 
because I think that this is the new picture's undoing. Dassin and 
his collaborators on the script, Ruby Dee and Julian Mayfield, have 
felt bound to follow the O'Flaherty-Ford form; thus what starts as a 
dramatic conspectus of present tensions shifts into a drama of one 
man that is basically unrelated to those tensions. The three new 



UP TIGHT 123 

writers have overlooked the fact that Ford's film was not about the 
rights and wrongs of the Irish Revolution or the conflicting ideological 
strands within it. It was concerned entirely with its protagonist, who, 
as far as his drama was concerned, could have been an Algerian 
under the French or a Palestinian Jew under the British. The O'Fla- 
herty-Ford theme was the humanity of weakness and the futility of 
betrayal, not social-political issues. Up Tight begins with issues; then, 
in unfortunate obedience to the earlier structure, swerves right out 
of them, into another subject. Dassin's protagonist, Tank Williams, 
the renegade militant, does not have a race problem essentially: he 
has a drink-envy-weakness problem which could have landed him in 
an equivalent mess if he had been a white defense-plant worker with 
Soviet agents nibbling at him. Near the end, the hunted Tank says 
he wishes that someone in the world could tell him why he com 
mitted his treachery. This plea is made the crux of the film, but Tank's 
internal anguish is a long way from the wide-scale social drama with 
which the story began. The idea of a remake of The Informer is 
presumably what launched this project and made it possible: pre 
sumably a much more exploitable idea than a new script on the race 
situation. But a new script would not necessarily have forced the 
film into a shape that works against it, as this remake does. 

What is even worse, this protagonist and his drama are feeble. We 
are not only switched out of what is valid and vivid; what we are 
switched into is poor. In the second half of the film, the screenplay 
becomes mostly a weak Americanized echo of Dudley Nichols' In 
former script, and the performance of Tank is boring. Julian May- 
field, who plays the role, is a big sweating man with no real power 
of agony. Victor McLaglen was hardly a sterling actor, but he had a 
forceful personality and Ford knew how to use it. 

Some of the cast are good. Frank Silvera, the gradualist, gives fire 
and contempt to his dissolving position. Raymond St. Jacques, the 
militant leader, is utterly convincing, never a trite film bravo. Al 
though Roscoe Lee Browne, as a police informer, is blatant, his role 
is blatantly written a blind man could see that he is a stool pigeon; 
at least Browne plays it with bitter style. The least flavorful perform 
ance is by Ruby Dee, pallid as Tank's prostitute girl friend. 

The use of Technicolor seems wrong. (Perhaps this was Para- 
mount's fault, looking ahead to future TV sales.) Up Tight cries out 
for black and white, to avoid any possibility of the very trap the pro- 



124 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

duction falls into. As designer, Dassin has used Alexandre Trauner, 
the Frenchman whose career of more than thirty years includes 
Children of Paradise and the recent A Flea in Her Ear. (His art 
nouveau sets were the best feature of that last disaster.) When Trau 
ner designed such grim French works as Quai des Brumes and Le 
Jour Se Leve, he worked out of and toward something he knew. Here 
he designs like a fascinated tourist. He over designs; his colors are 
lush and intrusive, many of the places look like settings (the room 
where Tank is "tried," for instance), and the overall visual effect is of 
a musical. 

Dassin's direction is his best since He Who Must Die, but that's a 
tiny compliment because most of his work since then has been abom 
inable (Phaedra, Topkapi, 10:30 P.M. Summer). At least Up Tight 
has allowed him to achieve a bit of the spaciousness of his Kazant- 
zakis film. Some of the better moments like a scene where tene 
ment dwellers crowd onto balconies and toss bottles to protect a 
fugitive from the police are reminiscent of early Fritz Lang. But 
Dassin's grip is weak. He grabs suddenly and frantically for subjec 
tive effects: a hand-held camera when Tank goes into the police sta 
tion to squeal and a whirling camera when the fugitive plunges to his 
death, a device that's repeated when Tank dies. Dassin reaches his 
nadir in a penny arcade where Tank encounters some white people 
in evening dress. The white "backlash" dialogue is sophomoric, and 
Dassin shoots his actors with equal subtlety in fun house distorting 
mirrors. It's enough to make you doubt that any honest statements 
have been made in the film. 

The honesties are there, however. Up Tight is, in sum, a poor piece 
of work, but at least it allays our initial suspicion that it's going to 
crimp its explosive underlying ideas. Which leads to the next ques 
tion: Why does a big studio, a subsidiary of a huge industrial com 
bine (Gulf & Western), finance a frankly revolutionary film? 

For two interlocking reasons, I think. First, there isn't a militant 
statement in Up Tight that will be news to readers of Look and Life 
or to viewers of CBS and NBC and NET. In the past, to tamper with 
matters like the militants' pronouncements would have made the film 
look phony only to readers of books and of small-circulation maga 
zines. No longer so. The mass media now reach wide, and they can 
reach fast. They have biases and limitations, but they do have some 
sense of the dramatic; and nothing is more dramatic in America to- 



SHAME 125 

day than black militancy. TV coverage in particular the visible 
actions, the audible statements, the resolute faces have made Holly 
wood equivocation on this subject virtually impossible. If a picture 
is going to deal at all with a black group that is willing to kill a traitor, 
that group cannot be shown as working toward, say, the bussing of 
schoolchildren. 

Moreover, revolutionary ideas of all kinds have become a new 
spectator sport for the increasingly affluent, increasingly educated, 
therefore increasingly guilt-ridden (and guilt-enjoying) middle class. 
I was in Vancouver recently, and the first thing I saw on the morn 
ing I arrived was a hippie on a street-corner selling the local "under 
ground" newspaper, doing a brisk trade with white-collar types on 
their way to work. Not in San Francisco or L.A. in Vancouver, 
British Columbia. Whatever Dassin's motives for wanting to make 
Up Tight, Paramount's motives were, I would guess, the knowledge 
that the trails had been well blazed by mass media, an awareness of 
the new sophistication in ideological thrill-seeking, and a professional 
sense of the narrowing gap between the front line of social fact and 
the threshold of film-audience acceptance. Plus the money of the 
growing black audience. In any event, the fact that Paramount backed 
this picture is more interesting than the picture itself. 



Shame 

(January 4, 1969) 

INGMAR Bergman has made a film about something he hates, war, 
with people whom he loves, Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmarm, Gunnar 
Bjornstrand, and the cameraman Sven Nykvist. This basic contrast, 
subtle and pervasive, is stronger than anything else in the film. Of 
course that contrast will be effective only with those who have some 
familiarity with Bergman's work. Well, I can't speak as someone who 
doesn't have such familiarity, and by now there cannot be many read 
ers who don't have some acquaintance with Bergman, some sense of 
the accrued richness in his films through his reuse of persons and 
places. (Shame is set again on an island off the Swedish coast.) 



126 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

To indulge this personalist criticism a bit further, the best bitterness 
in Shame comes from a feeling that Bergman conceived this script 
at least partly by imagining these actors, who are dear to him, being 
plunged into physical horrors; imagining the cameraman, who has 
captured so much delicacy for him, slamming down images of brutish- 
ness; and imagining the pearl-gray world of the Swedish islands, 
which have become Bergman's outer landscape of inner landscapes, 
ravished by flames and smashing. Those contradictions are the funda 
mental obscenity. 

Bergman's method is bioptic. Instead of an antiwar film on a pan 
oramic scale, he tells the close-up story of one civilian couple. It is 
1971; no places or armies are named. On this island live a husband 
and wife (von Sydow and Miss Ullmann), violinists who have retired 
here because the war has broken up their orchestra and because he 
has a tricky heart. At the start they are a couple with wrinkled, well- 
worn domestic patterns: he is a bit cranky, she is a bit cruel; he has 
his morning pill, she has her morning domination. But they love each 
other periodically, at any rate. The waves of military filth gush 
and countergush over them, as invaders attack and are repulsed. 
(The director Vilgot Sjoman is briefly visible as an invader officer, I 
think.) By the end the couple have reversed roles; he dominates. The 
man who could not kill a chicken has killed a friend and a young un 
armed soldier. The wife accepts these killings; had slept with that 
friend in order to protect their lives; has retreated for refuge into 
dreams of the child whom the marriage has not produced. The civilized 
people of the opening have become little more than survivors, whose 
chief ethic is to survive. 

The three leading performances are perfect. Von Sydow seemingly 
doesn't know how to make a false move, and he makes the true moves 
so fluently that the design and skill in his acting are easy to scant. 
Bjornstrand is the friend, the mayor who goes from power to sexual 
enslavement to execution; he has a moving impassiveness, a disbelief 
in the reality of any event even while that event is clutching him. As 
for Miss Ullmann, whose third Bergman film this is, she now stands 
with Bibi Andersson and Vanessa Redgrave in the front rank of the 
world's young film actresses. She makes every moment crystalline, 
the quintessence of what it is about. I was about to praise the scene 
in which she sees her first dead body, that of a child, but that mo 
ment is no better simply more dramatic than those in which she 



SHAME 127 

frets at her husband or loves frim or realizes what is happening to 
him and her or begins to go morally numb. Her face is snub-nosed, 
freckled, funny; it is also purely beautiful. Which means of course 
that she is funny and she is beautiful and has the talent to shape the 
character with her funniness and her purity. 

Bergman knows how to rely on all this. The opening scene of 
Hour of the Wolf consisted of Miss UUmann coming out of an island 
house, sitting at an outdoor table, and speaking directly to us for 
some minutes, a scene that was a triumph of her ability and Ms judg 
ment. In Shame there is a similar scene at a similar table where she 
speaks at length to her husband (we watch over his shoulder), pro 
gressing from wistful unsatisfied maternity to immediate physical de 
sire. Again she plays the long scene excellently; again Bergman shows 
us that masterly direction sometimes consists of not intruding, of 
allowing the right performer and the fact of film to come together. 

Bergman, with Nykvist, has devised pictorial beauties that drama 
tize visually what every scene is about, while the actors provide the 
correlatives: a close pyramidal shot of the husband and wife holding 
his old violin as they talk of their past musical lives; the long stretch 
of shore, like the edge of existence verging on nowhere; a scene by 
the side of a fast-flowing stream (like one in Winter Light), where the 
rushing water mutes the voices. Bergman insists on making physical 
textures speak like the contrast between the weathered wooden 
siding of the house and Miss UUmann's fresh face in the doorway. 
And the scenes of violence were made with a hand-held camera, to 
punch us with immediate shock. 

And yet (an antithesis that recurs in my Bergman reviews) . . , 
and yet Shame disappoints. First, it's too long. It says everything it 
has to say by the time the husband has killed his friend. (In fact 
Shame is about twenty minutes longer than most Bergman films since 
Smiles oj a Summer Night.) Some of its ironies are facile, like a 
sequence in a shop full of eighteenth-century curios or the children's 
drawings in a schoolroom being used for tortured prisoners. But even 
if the picture were pared, it would still have too little to say and by 
"say" I certainly don't mean "utter" or "preach." It scrutinizes two 
people slammed about by war, not just to tell us that killing is horrible 
but also that living through the killing is horrible. Shame accomplishes 
this; nevertheless it is too monodic, almost didactic, too bare of 
new evocation. Given these people and what is happening, we know 



128 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

what to expect. What we want from an art work about war at this 
late date in art works about war is what we didn't know we expected. 
Richard Gilinan said in The New Republic (November 25, 1967) 
that the relevance of Richard Lester's How I Won the War 

is to the way war, or any phenomenon of violence, proceeds in its 
usurpation of truth and consciousness. And it shows this by extending the 
film as creator of counterstatements, fecund myths whose weight may be 
used against all the destructive ones. 

Such myths are fecund, when they are, not so much, perhaps, be 
cause an art work creates them as because they were in us, fertile 
and waiting, and are now touched to fruition by the artist. Bergman 
only tells us often beautifully what we are already aware of, in 
fact and myth. Shame forges no new armor, touches no new core, 
blazes no deeper shame. 



The Birthday Party 

{January 4, 1969) 

ROBERT Shaw is first-rate as Stanley in the film of Harold Pinter's 
The Birthday Party. (Sometimes, with glasses, curly hair, and nar 
rowed eyes, he even looks like Pinter.) Shaw has screen-filling pres 
ence and the power to suggest memories echoing in a long, arched, 
troubled mind, together with a hint of violent madness just below 
the surface. Dandy Nichols is excellent as Meg, Ms landlady affec 
tionate, almost moronically innocent of the way he is using her as a 
punching bag and, by virtue of simpleminded devotion, achieving 
some stature. 

The film is worth seeing for those two performances but not for 
much else. The play itself is Pinter's first full-length work (1958) and 
seems to me his least good long piece. The agencies of threat are too 
explicit; the dramatic form is basically a gangster comedy-melo 
drama (about a wrongdoer punished by other wrongdoers) with all 
the explanations removed. It's a very good mysterious tease, and the 
dialogue is superb. (Kenneth Tynan said: "Mr. Pinter's ear ranks 



THE BIRTHDAY PARTY 129 

with Jenkin's and Van Gogh's among the great ears of history.") 
But the play is by no means as genuinely mysterious as The Care 
taker or as savagely funny as The Homecoming. 

Yet it's very much better than this film (screenplay by Pinter). 
For one thing, the film seems longer, although the original has been 
much condensed. (For instance, the theme of Lulu, the seduced girl, 
is not completed; she doesn't return after the party, as she does in the 
play.) The Caretaker, almost the same length originally, is almost un 
cut on film and never comes near sagging. 

Some of the difference is, obviously, that The Caretaker is better 
to begin with. But this new film surely need not have been tedious. 
Partly the trouble is Sydney Tafler's performance as Goldberg 
actorish, heavy, and imprecise. (Tafler's gestures are fuzzy and 
poorly tuned.) Goldberg is a large part, and we don't want constantly 
to be conscious of the actor hi it. But mostly the trouble is with the 
direction by an American newcomer named William Friedkin. 

Friedkin is apparently a scion of Sidney Lumet; he seems to have 
studied the latter's film of View from the Bridge. Nothing that could 
be done simply is left alone. There are lots of shots in mirrors (the 
very first shot is in a rear-view car mirror), sudden cuts to high 
overhead views, shots through apertures; the camera even leaps for 
ward once to underline a particular word. The screen goes to black 
ness twice (for what are the act breaks of the play), goes into 
distorted negative images in a scare scene, goes out of color into black- 
and-white in the scenes that take place by flashlight. (As if one 
couldn't see colors by flashlight.) 

All these lame clevernesses not only distract us from what's going 
on; they take time or at least the distraction makes it seem as if 
they're taking tune. So the film drags. Friedkin would have done 
better to study what Clive Dormer did and did not do in the 
Caretaker film, which is stark, concentrated, and suffocating. 



130 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Here's Your Life 

(Januray 11, 1969> 

THE opening shot (after the titles) is a glimpse not more than a 
second of the hero's face. Then a fast cut to the house in the woods 
toward which he was turning his head. So small an unconvention- 
ality, that opening, yet so radical. Immediately there's a thrill of ex 
pectation that this film is in the hands of a director with a vision of 
his own, and the expectation is quickly confirmed. The film is quiet, 
visually lovely, done with an ingenuity that enriches its materials 
instead of distracting us. It's the first feature by a 37-year-old Swede 
named Jan Troell, a former schoolteacher who has made some shorts 
for children. Troell directed, photographed, and edited, and he is 
coauthor of the script (based on a novel by Eyvind Johnson) with 
the Swedish critic Bengst Forslund. 

Here's Your Life it's called, and that's exactly what it's about, in 
two senses. Here are the formative events of young Olofs life in 
northern Sweden from ages fourteen to eighteen, during the years of 
World War I, and here now is life waiting for him at the end of those 
formative years. The story is quite ordinary: Olofs first jobs, in a 
lumber camp, in a country movie theater, as projectionist for a travel 
ing movie show, in a railroad yard; his first sex experiences; his first 
intellectual and Marxist political experiences. But Troell knows that 
the materials are familiar., knows that his deep engagement with them 
is apt but insufficient, that he must treat them with art to make them 
both fresh and endearingly familiar. He succeeds generally well in 
this, and he does more: he composes a little poem on his country. 
He is a Swede making a film about Sweden, about the north of 
Sweden hard, with men companionable against the cold, with those 
specially delightful summers that come around in cold regions. It was 
Lewis Mumford, I think, who said that we can no longer be nation 
alists but that we must not stop being regionalists. Troell is singing 
this region through the story of young Olof . 

Some outstanding Swedish actors appear in relatively small roles. 
Per Oscarsson, who was tremendous as the hero of Hunger, is a 
railroad worker. Gunnar Bjornstrand, a Bergman stalwart, is the 
theater owner. Ake Fridell and Ulf Palme and Ulla Sjoblom, all 



HERE'S YOUR LIFE 131 

familiar faces if not names, are the touring impresario, a sawyer, a 
carnival lady of generous virtue. Their parts are all minor, except 
Miss Sjoblom's, and they are all fine; and the fact that they are in 
those small parts gives the picture an added aura of integrity. Only 
Eddie Axberg, the Olof, is merely adequate. Troell clearly wanted 
a credible working-class boy and not a charm bomb, but, with Ax- 
berg, credibility is about all he got. 

As for what happens to Olof, Troell traces it delicately with 
deft, significant ellipses, with humor, and with some lovely photog 
raphy. Some random samples: a grizzled lumberjack skips along 
gracefully over logs in a river, and a double image of him appears 
just behind him, embodying his grace as a separate entity and some 
how prefiguring his death. When shy Olof teaches a shy girl how to 
ride a bike, the sound track repeats the soppy violin-piano music 
of the movie house which had been played for a torrid vamp movie. 
In one unearthly shot, a sled bearing a casket slips along under a 
sky as completely white as the ground below. And on the old film 
battlefield of the bed, Troell manages to devise one fresh strategy: the 
woman and the boy sit on opposite sides dressing in the morning; we 
see them past the footboard, separated but connected by it. 

Not all of the film is successful There are too many freeze frames 
a device that by now has become the June-moon of poetic film 
making. There is a flashback in color (the rest is black and white) 
about a minor character's wife, which is overemphasized by the 
color and is overlong. The character of the carnival woman, though 
well played, descends from the familiar into the stock. And there 
seem to be a few wisps and loose ends. (What happened with the 
railway strike?) The picture has obviously been condensed. The 
International Film Guide 1968 says that Here's Your Life runs 167 
minutes, "the longest Swedish film, ever made." The version being 
shown here runs 110 minutes. Perhaps it was Troell himself who 
condensed it, and I'm not necessarily regretting it, because a film 
needs to be a considerable masterwork to justify 167 minutes' run 
ning time. But whoever did the condensation left several threads 
hanging. 

Let none of this discourage you from seeing the picture. As is, it's 
a gentle, humane work by a newcomer of outstanding versatility and 
gifts. His attitude toward artistic tradition is the one I admire most: 



132 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

he follows no rule just because it exists, he breaks no rule just be 
cause it exists. He comes from somewhere, artistically speaking, but 
he insists on coming from there, not staying. 

Since he finished Here's Your Life in 1966, Troell has made a 
second feature, Eeny, Meeny, Miny Moe with Per Oscarsson as a 
schoolteacher which won the Berlin Festival prize in 1968. I hope 
we can see it soon. 



Red Beard 

(January 11, 1969) 

No picture by Akira Kurosawa can go unnoticed. Red Beard was 
shown at the New York Film Festival in 1965 and, I believe, has 
since played in the U.S. only at some Japanese-language theaters on 
the West Coast. Now it is generally released, and there's no mystery 
about why it was delayed. It runs three hours, and the script is dread 
ful. Imagine that Frank G. Slaughter had been hired to write a 
monster installment of a Japanese Dr. Kildare, about a nineteenth- 
century rural hospital run by a gruff old humanitarian doctor nick 
named Red Beard whose example alters and inspires a rebellious 
young intern. Add that Toshiro Mifune plays the older doctor and 
that Mifune fans demand a scene in which he wins a physical fight 
against great odds. Here he uses fisticuffs, not swordplay, to disable 
eight ruffians or was it eighty? in a brothel, where he has gone on 
a house call. 

Still I recommend Red Beard heartily, though within limits. It 
may bore the general public, not film specialists. The latter will have 
the chance to see yet again the mastery of Kurosawa, a man who 
knows infallibly in every split second of a film (and there are lots and 
lots of split seconds here) where his camera ought to be looking and 
how to get it there; how to create an environment through which 
his narrative runs like a stream through a landscape; how to help his 
actors particularly Mifune and Yuzo Kayama as the young doctor 
into the very breath of their characters. 



GREETINGS 133 

The bog is that script. If ever I saw a refutation of the thesis that 
style is all in art, it's Red Beard. Throughout, I was conscious of great 
talent being lavished on hokum, like Toscanini conducting "The 
Stars and Stripes Forever" (which at least is short). But, on every 
score except script selection, makers and students of film can learn 
wonderfully from it. 



Greetings 

(January 18, 1969) 

TWENTY years ago Greetings might have been called bright under 
graduate humor, which would have been a compliment, but twenty 
years ago nothing about it could have existed. Not just the topical 
digs but the style and the very fact that it's a film. I'm glad it does 
exist because for the most part it's funny. 

After approximately 100,000 underground, independent, and stu 
dent films that aim at satire and miss, it's pure pleasure to come on one 
that succeeds most of the way and that also justifies its "now" film 
approach. (Partly by satirizing that, too.) Greetings and the title 
will be recognized by far too many as the first word of the draft- 
induction notice is about three young New Yorkers, two of whom 
come up for induction and all of whom are far out. The story wheels 
free, winging through such subjects as how to con the draft board, 
computer dating, porno movies, crackpot solutions to President 
Kennedy's assassination, and come-as-you-are sex. The big difference 
between this film and the endless others that flit around such sub 
jects is that Charles Hirsch and Brian De Palma, the scriptwriters, 
really have wit. They don't assume that they are equipped to write 
satire simply because they are young, loathe the Vietnam war, like 
sex, and know some girls who will take off their clothes in front of 
a camera. More: unlike Robert Downey, who is fairly funny on paper 
(Chafed Elbows'), De Palma, who directed, knows something about 
comic timing of actors, camera movement, and editing. Considering 
that he must have worked on a beggarly budget, he gets pretty good 
results with his color, too. 



134 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Greetings Is truly and truthfully youtliful. Joanna is a slick slide 
over some of the Newest Waves, devoid of personality or credible 
intent. The script of Candy by Buck Henry looks like Henry's at 
tempt to satisfy a producer's idea of mod and yet not lose face with 
his own swinging Mends. Greetings is just the work of young people 
being young, responding acutely but unsententiously to contemporary 
artistic and social stimuli; not using that response as sole justification, 
yet insisting on it as the primary reason for the film's being. One of 
the picture's appeals is the way its air of improvisation conceals 
its design. Note, for instance, how the scene in the bookshop with 
the assassination nut leads to the shoplifting girl, which leads to 
the sequence in which she poses for home movies, which leads to the 
sequence in which the Vietcong girl poses for the TV camera. 



(February 15, 1969} 

LINDSAY Anderson is a sore subject. If there were a way to rate 
talent in the abstract, he would rank high among the world's directors. 
He has a fine cinematic intelligence that is fertilized by sensitivity 
to other arts and by social engagement. But talent is not valuable 
to others, at least outside of works; and Anderson's two feature 
films to date are serious disappointments. This Sporting Life (1963) 
had some of the best sport sequences and some of the fiercest man- 
woman quarrels I have seen on film, but it ran out of dramatic energy 
and ended in debilitated symbolism. His new film, //..., has pas 
sages in it of extraordinary beauty not only in composition but in 
concept, editing, and rhythm; yet the dissipation toward the end is 
even more marked than in his first picture. 

The title is from Kipling, I suppose, and the setting is the British 
public school. The theme is the conflict between the nature of youth 
and the leather of tradition, with the latter enhanced by the cruelty 
of older students (called whips) who are given authority and by the 
beastliness of all boys from time to time. Intellectual attitudes to 
ward the public school have changed since the days when Byron 
grew to love Harrow. (See Orwell's Such, Such Were the Joys.} But 



IF ... 135 

the very Englishman who recalls his own school experience with 
some horror rushes to "put down" his son for that same school on 
the day the son is born. The good schools are still the best manufac 
tories of the right accent; and the right accent is still desirable 
despite all the prattle about classlessness and all the affections of 
lower-class or American speech. It is still important to have the right 
accent to slum from.* 

The persistence of class devotions among parents and teachers is 
what underlies Anderson's film. He and his scriptwriter, David Sher- 
win, begin fascinatingly with a quasi-Brechtian approach: not with 
the mere use of part titles but with what might be called the view of 
a compassionate anthropologist. As the boys return to start a new 
term, Anderson slides a number of "samples" before us, to establish 
the environment and to place them as personalities, yet not so close 
as to create a protagonist or organize a story. The purpose is con 
spectus, and in the first portion of the film, the effect is very excit 
ing as all the cinematic elements are used with great skill by a real 
mind with a real view. 

But doubts begin to assail as quirkiness begins to be evident. First 
because it's the first quirk to become apparent why are there 
recurrent black-and-white sequences in this well-photographed color 
picture? No pattern or point is even made of this. Then, why, in a 
detailedly realistic picture, do grotesqueries of conduct suddenly ap 
pear? The padre hides in a huge drawer in the headmaster's office in 
order to hear a boy's apology. The stufiy general keeps orating on 
Speech Day even though smoke is plainly pouring up from the cellar. 
What about the loose plot ends? What happened to the two boys who 
stole a motorcycle? What happened to the whip whose homosexual 
proclivities were tested by being given a pretty boy as his servant? 

More serious than these oddities is the strained imagination that 
is enforced on the film about halfway through. The first sign is dur 
ing a tussle between a boy and a cafe waitress. We suddenly get a 
glimpse of the pair naked. Whose vision of nakedness is it his, 
hers, or the director's? In a later scene the housemaster's plain but 
curvy wife wanders naked through an empty dormitory. We have 
seen earlier how, to the virtually isolated boys, she has become a kind 
of desperate sex image. But where is this naked wandering taking 

* English friends advise me that my statements about the "right accent" are 
out of date. If so, Anderson's implications are anachronistic. 



136 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

place? Is it real a demented moment in the sex-starved woman's 
life? Is it in the imagination of a boy all the boys? Or is it Ander 
son's comment? If we knew, the scene in one way or the other would 
probably be affecting. But no connection with it is possible, and it 
floats by, its nerve ends disjoined from the rest of the film. 

The worst injury, however, comes from Anderson-Sherwin's re 
sponse to the film's need for dynamic sustenance. About halfway 
through, I began to wonder what was going to keep this picture going. 
Up to then it had been varyingly successful "documentation" of 
the cruelties of school, the cruelties and beauties of youth. Could it 
just go on documenting? I wondered. Evidently the director and 
writer wondered about the same thing, and they inserted plot se 
quences that wrench the film out of even its previously inconsistent 
tone, out of its existence. First, there is armed revolt by three boys 
with blank cartridges; and the film ends in armed revolt with live 
ammunition. The quad is strewn with corpses. Presumably this is the 
realization of fantasy, but it fails because it is given no reference of 
reality or irony. If, for instance, there had been a final shot of the 
quad w/zlittered with corpses, with the rebels meekly marching out 
of the assembly into the channels of school, it would not have trans 
formed the end into a triumph of the imagination but would at least 
have located it as bitter dream. Anderson's finish is unsyntactical 
and ruinous. 

All of the cast are competent, with Robert Swarm outstanding as 
a sadistic whip. 

On the evidence so far, I would guess that Anderson's best chance 
to fulfill himself is to find a producer who has keener editorial judg 
ment than his, and to rely on him. What Anderson chooses to do, 
he usually does extremely well; but his choices in the course of any 
one film are erratic. 

POSTSCRIPT. "We specially saw Zero de Conduite again, before 
writing started, to give us courage." Thus Anderson in the preface to 
the published screenplay of // ... by himself and David Sherwin. 
If only he had taken more than courage, if only he had taken tonal 

consistency as well. From the first moment of Jean Vigo's film in 

the shadowy railroad compartment with steam billowing outside it 
is touched with poetic fantasy, so that the final turbulent scene, with 
the row of dummy figures on the school dais, is the culmination of 



STOLEN KISSES 137 

everything before it. But // . . . is also under Brechtian "epic" 
influence (as Anderson says), and the two elements fight each other. 
How I wish he had the editorial judgment I mentioned, or could 
trust someone who has it, because, in that hypothetical abstract, his 
talent is large. In fact, for me he is the best directorial talent in 
British film history. 



Stolen Kisses 

(February 22, 1969) 

I had something of the same experience at Francois Truff aut's Stolen 
Kisses that I had at Polanski's picture Rosemary's Baby: again I 
realized I had to stop judging the director by his earliest work. Truf- 
faut's The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, and Jules and Jim 
were serious films made in a highly idiosyncratic style. The Soft Skin 
retained that style but showed a curious paralysis of humor, which 
allowed Truffaut to use trite material quite tritely and to finish with 
a ridiculous melodramatic ending. Fahrenheit 451 reminded me in 
reverse of Disney's hippo trying to be a ballerina: Truffaut was a 
ballerina trying to be a weight lifter. The Bride Wore Black was an 
arted-up, not-quite-slick thriller. Now with Stolen Kisses Truffaut 
has made a very entertaining romance, full of good feeling but almost 
devoid of his style, much as if he were stepping deliberately into the 
general France-for-export business. Polanski began as an investi 
gator of the horror of life and is now a successful maker of horror 
entertainment. Truffaut's hallmark was lyrical exploration of love 
and sex, and he has now made a skillful boulevard comedy. 

The young hero is discharged from the army, outside Paris, as a 
psychological misfit. He had been in love, unsuccessfully, and had 
presumably enlisted because of the girl. Now he pursues her again 
without success, although she is cordial enough. He has a number of 
jobs and affairs. At last he wins his girl by quarreling with her and 
by being busy when she calls. Except for incidental present-day in 
gredients, the recipe is classic French cuisine. Truffaut skirts danger 
ously near the stale with such consciously Gallic touches as much 
of the music and some glory-of-Paris shots (the boy opening his 



138 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

window on a view of Sacre Coeur); and he even sinks so imagina 
tively low as to trace a trail of discarded shoes to two lovers in bed. 
At no point does the film reach the heights of the best Truffaut 
poetry, of which there were traces even in The Bride Wore Black; 
still there are sequences that would be high points for a lesser man. 
The overhead shot when the discharged soldier gets off the bus and 
runs across the square. His movement through the empty shop where 
he works, following the sound of a song to discover his boss's 
beautiful wife. The youth shaving, chanting into the mirror his own 
name and those of his two loves in a kind of manic ritual. The girl's 
mysterious pursuer revealed as an admirer, not a private eye. These 
scenes are better than mere charm-mongering, which most of the film 
does well enough. 

The youth is played appealingly by Jean-Pierre Leaud, who was 
the boy in The 400 Blows. That boy and this youth have the same 
name, Antoine Doinel, but it would be pat and mistaken, I think, 
to conclude that Stolen Kisses is any kind of sequel; the power to give, 
or even to withhold, is not what lay ahead of that boy in The 400 
Blows. Delphine Seyrig, the boss's wife, is exactly the kind of mature 
beauty that any youth would dream about particularly a dream in 
which she comes to his bedroom and offers herself to him on con 
dition that they never see each other again. Claude Jade is refreshing 
as the girl. 

The course of Truff aufs career indicates that he began as an artist 
with something to say, said it, and is now left, in his late thirties, 
with much executant ability and nothing that he himself really wants 
to do; so he will hunt up occasions to use his ability. If this is not all 
that his first films promised, hell probably provide us with lots of 
pleasure. The inverse of that sentence is also true: if he provides us 
with lots of pleasure, that is not all that his first 151ms promised. 



Pierrot le Fou 

(February 22, 1969) 

JEAN-LUC Godard made Pierrot le Fou six features ago (at this writ 
ing), far back in 1965. I saw it at the New York Film Festival the 



PIERROT LE FOU 139 

following year and disliked it. It's now released here, and after La 
Chinoise and Weekend, I like it even less. 

A Parisian TV writer (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is suffocating in Ms 
marriage to a rich, pretty, dull Italian girl. (Godard likes to kid 
foreign accents in French: Jean Seberg in Breathless, the Italian girl 
here.) Belmondo suddenly runs off one night with the baby-sitter, 
Anna Karina. Complications of murder and torture follow from 
her previous involvement with gangsters and gunrunners. The pair 
flee to the Riviera and try to have an idyll; the gangsters follow. It all 
ends with Belmondo's shooting her, then committing suicide by tying 
dynamite around his head after painting his face blue. Why waste 
the resources of color film? 

The story would be trite a mod Elvira Madigan if it asked for 
any attention as such. It would also be incredible. That this mousy 
little baby-sitter is also involved with killers and is undisturbed by a 
corpse in the next room on the night that she and her lover first go 
to bed all this would be ludicrous if we were meant to take the nar 
rative seriously. But in a frantic way Godard is deliberately fractur 
ing story logic, using narrative only as a scaffolding for acrobatics, 
cinematic and metaphysical. The question is whether those acrobatics 
are consistently amusing and/or enlightening. I think not. 

There is the usual Godard barrage of devices, standard even by 
1965: verbal-visual puns (VIE in neon turns out to be part of RIV 
IERA); editing that goes backward, forward, and sideways in time; 
saturation in film references. Water torture is reprised from Le Petit 
Soldat. There are anticipations: close-ups of comic-strip violence, 
which prefigure La Chinoise; a ghastly auto accident used in tableau 
mort, which prefigures Weekend as does a 360-degree pan when 
the lovers debark from a small boat. In short, more grist for the 
movie-buff mills. 

For me, the film is a function of three boredoms, (I exclude my 
own.) The hero is bored by his Parisian life, which precipitates the 
story. The girl is soon bored by the tranquil island where he takes 
her, which brings about their deaths. And, principally, Godard is 
very soon bored. I think that the whole film after they flee the girl's 
Paris apartment is a series of stratagems to keep Godard himself from 
falling asleep: improvisations, hi^b-school philosophizing, grotesque- 
ries, and supersanguinary violence. His quick mind seems to 
have flown ahead to his next film while he is faced with the need to 



140 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

finish this one. Boredom has been a (one may say) vital element 
in art from Gogol and Musset to Beckett and lonesco, but in their 
cases, boredom has been the subject, not the artist's own reaction 
to the making of his art. The first half of Weekend, which is Godard's 
best work to date, is brilliantly about certain boredoms; but in the 
second half he was bored. 

His contemporary, Truffaut, seems to be running out of interests 
and is becoming a body of film-making skills more or less for hire. 
Godard, a man of larger and more desperate hungers, keeps snatch 
ing at themes to nourish his interest. He has gobbled at blood (a 
midget with scissors in his neck in Pierrot) , alienation, the Vietnam 
war, Maoism, fantasy youth revolt, real youth revolt. If anything 
ever gripped him profoundly, even if only for a couple of months, 
what a film we might get! 



The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 

(Starch 1, 1969) 

No one who admires Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 
can be greatly enthusiastic about Jay Presson Allen's two versions. 
The best one can do is recognize with a sigh that, as usual, "adapta 
tion" means settling for less. Mrs. Allen's stage version made a wispy 
attempt to keep the perspectives of the novel; her film version does 
not The novel is framed in retrospect. The form is not so obvious as 
flashback; rather, two planes of time are kept alive the fate of the 
women who were once Miss Brodie's pet students and the schooldays 
that to some extent made that fate. The viewpoint is the author's, the 
tone is irony, and it is essential to the irony that Miss Brodie never 
be quite sure which one of her girls betrayed her. 

Here the form is all tidied up. Mrs. Allen has taken Mrs. Spark's 
troublesome time-weavings and straightened them out with carpen 
ter's common sense. Frank Kennode has said: 

The suggestion is, in Mrs. Spark's novels, that a genuine relation exists 
between the forms of fiction and the forms of the world, between the 
novelist's creation and God's. 



THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE 141 

Nonsense, replies Mrs. Allen (in effect). A story is a story, and if 
Mrs. Spark wants to embroider it for book readers, if the form is 
itself the work's resolution, all right, but she can't be allowed to fool 
around with film audiences. Fat parts are fat parts, scenes are scenes. 
The pieces must be assembled, traditionally piled up, and capped 
with a payoff scene, in which the betrayer tells Miss Brodie of the 
betrayal and why. 

The pity in all this is pertinent, not academic; the form of Mrs. 
Spark's novel, followed with faithful intention, would have made 
much better use of the film medium than this rather hack job and 
would have produced a more subtle and affecting result. This picture 
has no center; it bears down so heavily on schoolgirlish activities that 
Mrs. Spark's clean texture becomes rather cute. 

Still there is some charm. First is the appeal of novelty. Edinburgh 
and a girls' school in 1932 are not run-of-the-mill settings; the former 
is lovely, and the Lallans accents in the latter are winning. Much of 
Mrs. Spark's diamond dialogue has been kept. Ronald Neame has 
directed with cozy-matinee competence. And there are two outstand 
ing performances. 

Celia Johnson returns to the screen after ten years' absence. In this 
country she is probably best known for Brief Encounter (1946), in 
which she and Trevor Howard elevated wistful suburban adultery 
as close as it will ever come to tragedy. I saw her as Masha in a 
London production of The Three Sisters in 1951, and merely to write 
those words is to feel again her moment of farewell with Vershinin 
(Ralph Richardson). Now Miss Johnson is back. Wrinkled. When 
she first appeared in this film, I and many in the audience gasped. 
Her face, like all loved actors* faces, is a calendar. But these calendars 
tell more than the passing of time; they tell us what time does. Miss 
Johnson is still beautiful, of course, and now with a beauty free of 
vanity. 

And, of course, she is still a fine actress. Her performance of Miss 
Mackay, the headmistress, has dignity without pomp and a patient 
self-reliance even when she seems to be utterly in the wrong. It was 
a bright stroke of casting to put her in the role. All through the film, 
sympathy runs for Miss Brodie and against the headmistress. Finally 
it is clear that, despite her seeming stodginess, Miss Mackay was 
the sounder of the two. And Miss Johnson's quiet tenacity works 
retroactively at the end. 



142 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

As Miss Brodie, Maggie Smith, improves through the picture, but 
she improves as Mrs. Allen's character, not Mrs. Spark's. Miss Smith 
seems to be playing Jean Brodie's affectations, instead of playing Jean 
Brodie, a woman with affectations. Mrs. Allen never gives her actress 
the chance to explore the tension between known and unknown drives 
that makes the novel's Brodie so terrible; but the film script does 
provide some "big" scenes that Miss Smith handles with certainty. 

Robert Stephens plays the art instructor, Mr. Lloyd with two 
arms, instead of the novel's more interesting one-armed war veteran. 
Stephens is a good actor, but the part has been reduced to a con 
ventional corduroy-jacketed free soul among puritans. The girls in 
Miss Brodie's set are all nice. 

The whole film proves dare I say this yet again? that the better 
a novel is, the less successful an adaptation of it is likely to be. Form 
and content cannot be easily peeled apart in good works and neatly 
reassembled. As for the argument that a film made from a novel ought 
to be judged on its own merits, it applies only when the novel is for 
gettable; Mrs. Spark's is not Even the unfortunates who haven't 
read the book may not be entirely happy with the film; it is unfocused 
for anyone. The book's admirers will get some reminders of it in 
somewhat vulgarized form, some glimpses of wonderful Edinburgh, 
some lightning flashes in Miss Smith's performance, and Celia John 
son. 



Bezhin Meadow 

(March 1 9 1969} 

A melancholy half hour comes to us from the Soviet Union a short 
made up of still photographs from Serge Eisenstein's lost film Bezhin 
Meadow, accompanied by a voice-over introduction and narration. 

By the mid- 19 30s Eisenstein was in doubtful status with the Soviet 
regime. Stalin himself had ordered changes in the director's previous 
film, The General Line, saying to Eisenstein, with the wit that en 
deared him to millions: "Life must prompt you to find the correct 
end for the film." In 1935 Eisenstein began work on Bezhin Meadow, 



BEZHIN MEADOW 143 

a Turgenev story adapted to present a generational conflict in revolu 
tionary Russia. In the village of the title, a reactionary peasant father 
finds himself on the opposite side of the struggle from his young son 
and ends by shooting the boy. 

The film was made in the political climate that culminated in the 
Moscow trials of 1938. When it was finished, revisions were ordered. 
Eisenstein then worked on a new script with a man whom the sound 
track of this short film calls "Writer Babel" the great Isaac Babel, 
himself soon to disappear in the Stalinist maw. The second version, 
too, was unsatisfactory to officialdom. The Soviet gobbledygook is 
thick, but the real reason comes through in Marie Seton's biography 
of Eisenstein: despite his attempts at strict party obedience, art kept 
breaking in. In 1937 he published an apologia, The Mistakes of 
Bezhin Meadow. Those of us who sneer have to be very sure that we 
are heroes. 

The narrator of this short film says that the bulk of Eisenstein's 
picture was destroyed by the German bombing of Mosfilm Studios 
during the Second World War. But before the war, writing in Partisan 
Review in 1938, Dwight Macdonald cited his sources for saying that 
the negative had been destroyed, burned for political heresy. The 
present exhibit seems a small attempt at atonement and not a 
moment too soon, to judge by latest reports of changing attitudes 
towards Stalin's memory. 

The short was assembled from surviving scraps by a Soviet director 
and a film critic. The stills are easily recognizable as the product of 
Eisenstein's vision and the eye of Edward Tisse, his favorite camera 
man. The photographs convey the unique Eisenstein flavor a dis 
tortion of reality that creates higher realism: a combination of 
masterly screen composition and masterly theatricality. And con 
sidering the grim facts that wrap the film, its revolutionary fervor is 
all the more painful. The very beauties of this salvage job under 
score the pathos of what Macdonald has called, with much justice, 
"the saddest artistic career of our times." 



144 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Simon of the Desert 

(March &, 1969) 

Luis Bunuel made Simon of the Desert in 1965, a forty-two-minute 
film about a latter-day religious who emulates Simeon Stylites, the 
fifth-century saint who spent over thirty years on top of a high pillar, 
praying and preaching to people below. BunueFs Simon has spent a 
number of years on a pillar in the desert and has evidently been 
a success, in intercessional terms. A rich family is so grateful for 
his help in getting their prayers answered that they have built a new 
pillar for him. He is just moving to it at the picture's start. The story 
chronicles his temptations and fantasies and the efforts that Satan 
makes, in various guises, to secure his damnation. Satan is at last so 
impatient with Simon's rectitude that, in the female form which Nick 
employs throughout, he/she sweeps the saint off to the future in a 
jet plane and deposits him in a dance-crammed New York disco 
theque. The ending is tricky and only suggestive, not as completely 
achieved as the rest of the film; but I can't believe what others have 
said, that it's an afterthought. 

Bunuel was born in Spain (in 1900) and was educated at a Jesuit 
school. Mother Church had the child and she has made the man, 
though probably not as she intended. Bunuel, who now lives in Mex 
ico, where Simon was produced, has been fighting his birth and breed 
ing all his life, ever since the Eisensteinian bishops in L'Age d*Or 
(1930). But he is certainly not a conventional lapsed Catholic. In 
the past he has applied the old chestnut to himself "I am an atheist, 
thank God" and he has also affirmed that he belongs to a devoutly 
Catholic family and that his early education left indelible traces on 
him. His mockery is that of an intimate,, as in the most rigidly reli 
gious country I've ever visited, Eire, where the villages are full of anti- 
clericalism. Bunuel, too, spews his sardonic humor on the Church; 
and also on man; but about God he reserves comment. If a character 
in Bunuel is introduced as devout, the devotion is usually seen to be 
true, not hypocritical, even though the person may subsequently 
change. Nazarin is truly Christian. Viridiana really believes in her 
vocation at the start of her story. (It's a nice private joke that Silvia 
Final, who was the novice Viridiana, here is Satan in female form.) 



SIMON OF THE DESERT 145 

Simon is genuine. The tone of the film makes us expect some ultimate 
exposure of his hypocrisy or failure. No; he is not very bright he 
is so keen to bless things that he even blesses a morsel of food he ex 
tracts from between his teeth but he is no faker. The one missing 
element in Simon is also missing from Bunuel's other religious films 
that I know: the facing of his own contradiction. If he is not sure 
that God does not exist and if he is sure that many a priest and parish 
ioner are corrupt, what does that make of God? 

Otherwise, this is intelligent fun, tart and compact. Simon, solidly 
played by Claudio Brook and cleverly written by Bunuel, is amus 
ing in his staunchness. The gratitude of the rich family affects him 
no more than the ingratitude of the thief whose amputated hands 
he restores. The malice of a jealous monk doesn't make him feel un 
worthy any more than the offer of priesthood makes him feel worthy. 
The film is one of Bunuel's most subtle conceptions, helped greatly 
because, by its nature, it precludes some of his obsessive, lurid 
cruelties. No knives this time, no cat pouncing on a mouse, no heads 
beaten in with rocks; only two items from the Cabinet of Dr. Bunuel: 
a dwarf the same one as in Nazarin and the dominant notion of 
sex as hell. 

Bunuel has directed well, calmly getting a sense of movement into 
a film that is mostly rooted in one spot. There are no flourishes, no 
arias for director. He plunges right into his story, articulates it cleanly, 
maintains an engaging but unhurried pace, and quits when he is fin 
ished. Gabriel Figueroa, who photographed Nazarin and several 
other Bunuel films, gives Simon a smooth gray-and-white tonality 
that suggests the visual equivalent of Gregorian chant. On the sound 
track, the various approaches of Satan are accompanied by drum 
rolls. This reminded me that, at the end of Nazarin, when the suffer 
ing priest is offered a pineapple by a woman, there are drumbeats on 
the sound track. 

Short and simple Simon haunts the memory, possibly because its 
themes have haunted Bunuel's life and here he has found his most 
direct way to work with them. We see religion as inescapable com 
plexity for those who once found it lucid. We see prayer, the glory 
of Christian exercise, made the center of an entire film; and we see 
prayer as the source both of humble strength and a kind of self- 
gratification. At the end Simon sits in the discotheque smoking a 
pipe, physically defeated by Satan but only because Satan has not 



146 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

been able to defeat him spiritually. He is immobilized more effectively 
than on his pillar but not seduced. Satan has showed him what lies 
ahead of man, despite all the praying of all the saints, but it doesn't 
daunt his vocation. I daresay that what Bunuel feels for Simon is 
compassion; it might even be identification except that Simon has 
no humor and except that, like Stephen Dedalus, Bunuel has the 
"cursed Jesuit strain" injected the wrong way. 



The Immortal Story 

(March 8, 1969) 

The Immortal Story is another step in the descent of Orson Welles, 
a pallid picture in which he also appears but in which he does not 
appear greatly interested. It runs an hour and was made for tele 
vision. It shows the marks of TV drama of the fifties, although it 
was made fairly recently: a predominance of close-ups and two-shots, 
sofa-vision pacing, an occasional gorgeous prop to give an air of 
richness but nevertheless a general air of poverty. 

Welles adapted the script from an Isak Dinesen story. A hundred 
years ago, a rich old American merchant is dying in Macao, where 
he made his fortune. He had heard a story on his way to China fifty 
years before about a handsome young sailor picked up and paid 
five guineas to bed an old man's beautiful bride and it's now the 
merchant's geriatric whim to make the story come true. This old 
man has no bride, but through his clerk, he engages a high-class 
tart, and then finds a penniless brawny young sailor. 

The point is to show the futility of trying to make fiction real, 
and the story is not a bad Chinese-box device. But Welles's direc 
tion misses its presumable aim Dinesen's timeless, bitter romance 
and gives us instead a limp antique. His editing is sometimes bizarre, 
as in a freak series of cuts when he listens to his clerk read. The 
only remarkable shot is one that he remembers from his past and keeps 
repeating here: putting the important person in a scene far in the 
background and viewing him past a person or object clearly focused 
in the foreground. The most blatant use of this trick occurs when 



i AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) 147 

the clerk leaves the tart in the bedroom and closes the door behind 
him. She calls; he opens the door again slightly, and she is perfectly 
framed in the aperture about twenty-five feet away. 

The color photography is by Willy Kurant, the only cinematog- 
rapher other than Raoul Coutard whom Godard has ever used (in 
Masculine Feminine). Here Kurant's work is quite unremarkable; 
besides, the color registers vary from shot to shot within some se 
quences. The tart is played by I might almost say "of course" 
Jeanne Moreau. Roger Coggio, an inexplicably noted actor, is the 
clerk. Some blond young man is the sailor. Welles relaxes through 
the role of the merchant, wearing his phoniest makeup since Mr. Ar- 
kadin. He aged more credibly in Citizen Kane twenty-eight years ago, 
but he did a lot of things better then. 



I Am Curious (Yellow) 

(March 15, 1969} 

VILGOT Sjoman, the Swedish director of My Sister, My Love and 491, 
has made a two-part work called / Am Curious. Each part is a full- 
length picture, and instead of calling them Parts One and Two, 
Sjoman calls the first one Yellow and the second Blue. These are the 
colors of the Swedish flag, and the whole work is about Sweden today. 
Last year when Grove Press tried to import I Am Curious (Yellow), 
U.S. Customs seized it as obscene. (In Sweden the film had been 
passed for showing to anyone fifteen or over.) Grove took legal action 
against the seizure, and thus as such actions imply became a 
simultaneous plaintiff-defendant: plaintiff because they started the 
action (the seizure could simply have been accepted), defendant be 
cause the government had by implication accused Grove of trying 
to corrupt American morals. 

To skip to the end, the first trial, with a jury, went against Grove. 
But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this verdict, two to 
one, and the film is now being shown. The distributors are restricting 
admission to adults using their own definition, apparently. The 
film carries no MPAA rating, so it will automatically be rated X if 
it plays in any theaters that abide by the MPAA code. 



148 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

The trouble over I AC (Y), not specified but understood by all, 
was not because it shows nudity of both sexes or sexual intercourse 
neither of which is novel by now but because it shows two ex 
plicit scenes of oral-genital contact. This is new in theatrical 151ms in 
the U.S. Doubtless Grove had known this and had been prepared for 
legal action and a test case. 

The question of an artist's freedom a film maker or any other 
artist did not arise. It rarely does under law. For all the blather in 
America and elsewhere about the artist's need for liberty of mind and 
spirit, the law's concern, insofar as it has any in this area, is to protect 
the public against the artist. The current legal test for obscenity is 
threefold. In order to be ruled unobscene, a work must qualify on 
at least one of these counts: it must be shown not to appeal predom 
inantly to prurient interest; or it must be shown not to be without re 
deeming social value; or it must be shown not to offend current 
community standards. No word about an artist's interest in prurience 
(which many artists have had) or his disregard of social value (which 
many have disregarded); certainly no word of the artist's recurrent 
desire to attack current community standards. Obviously Sjoman's 
film does not conform to current standards I mean in films, not 
in individual behavior. Therefore the case had to be made on one 
or the other of the first two points. 

I was a witness for the plaintiff-defendant. (I'm getting to be a 
Sjoman court veteran; I was also a witness for 497 in a similar trial.) 
The gist of my testimony concerned the wholeness of the film, an at 
tempt to show that its sexual candor was part of the general candor 
on all of the many subjects treated. The story is about a young Stock 
holm girl whose working-class father is a defeated libertarian. (He 
fought briefly in Spain against Franco.) With some education, she is 
emerging out of class constriction into an atmosphere of question: 
questioning everything social and political and religious accept 
ances, military tradition, the Bomb, and inevitably sexual conven 
tions. Her daring in the last matter is possibly her least adventurous, 
since her father and his friends are shown as not exactly puritanical. 

As a parallel to her curiosity, Sjoman has used an inquisitive 
method in his dkecting: moving continually between a documentary 
style, straight fictional narrative, and even into the making of the 
fiction. (We often see the crew and the director.) The patent purpose 



i AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) 149 

is to show that he is questioning the acceptances of his own world 
as his central character is questioning hers. 

The film seems to me a completely serious work. But that's not 
much of an esthetic recommendation. To pronounce about a work's 
seriousness in a review as against legal testimony seems almost 
sophomoric, which may be another comment on differences between 
art and law. More relevant to criticism, I AC ( Y) is overlong. It could 
profitably have ended when the girl returns to Stockholm from her 
country retreat; nothing that happens afterward adds to her experi 
ence, in this story. (I hope that the Blue sequel opens up some fresh 
areas.) I'm much less fascinated with the personality of Lena Nyman, 
the girl, than is Sjoman, and he rests his picture very largely on the 
fascination of her being, not on her performance. She seems to me 
porky and stolid and only sulkily interesting from time to time. And 
Sjoman's directorial methods, which apparently strike him as adven 
turous, are highly reminiscent of what's been done by other directors 
in other countries in the last decade. His play with different realities 
is rather plodding. 

What interests me most in this quite honest and quite mediocre 
picture is its possible effect on concepts of privacy. Putting aside 
pornography, which is another and complkated subject with its own 
value system, we might agree that all of human behavior ought 
ideally to be available to the serious artist. On the other hand, human 
beings do need areas of privacy in themselves. In order to have a self 
to communicate, there need to be interior privacies that are not com 
municated, on which the communication is based. From age to age 
and place to place, those areas of privacy in sexual matters are 
continually redefined. 

But if art is to be deeply affecting, it must speak to the unspoken. 
Sometimes art accomplishes this by implication, sometimes by ex- 
plicitness. The new sexual candor in films, of which Sjoman's picture 
is part, is explicit. It touches privacies. Yet we insist on maintaining 
some privacies; so it follows that privacy somewhat different for 
each of us must be redefined. 

It may be that complete film candor about sexual activity is ahead 
of us, that intercourse will become as much a material of art in our 
society as kissing (which is taboo and private in some societies) . And, 
just conceivably, this may be a healthy thing, as the sun temple at 



150 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Konarak suggests, because it will mean that privacy would become 
distinct from prudery: privacy would shift to an area where prudery 
could not exist, 

But I doubt that this will happen in our culture. The mature per 
son who sees explicit scenes like those in I AC (F) shoves them back 
some distance; does not let them affect him erotically; sees them as 
funny or revelatory of character, not as vicarious emotional involve 
ments. Eroticism is in the suggestive (the best sense of the word), 
not in the explicit. There is more heat in Bibi Andersson's narrative 
of an orgy in Persona, as she sits in a chair fully clothed, than in all 
the genitalia of Sjoman's film. The more intrusive a film gets in 
physicality, the less erotically effective it is likely to be with a mature 
viewer, who is reluctant to let his most private physical experiences 
be used as items of reference in a theater. 

I'm for Vilgot Sjoman in this matter because, with William Morris, 
I believe that "no man is good enough to be another man's master" 
least of all in morality. But that doesn't mean that all of me is at 
Sjoman's disposal. So the U.S. Customs can stop worrying about me. 
If I can't take care of my self, there's nothing they can do to help. 

POSTSCRIPT. And then came 7 Am Curious (Blue). It explored very 
little that was new, as against Yellow. For much of the time, it simply 
added different perspectives or information. In plot its chief contri 
bution was to explain how the girl and her lover got the crabs for 
which they had to be treated in Yellow. In technique its chief interest 
was in how Sjoman had separated out this film from the other, be 
cause it's not a sequel, it's a concomitant. It reminded me of some 
thing that AMra Kurosawa said when a producer asked him to cut 
one of his films. "All right," said Kurosawa, "111 cut it lengthwise." 
Sjoman seems to have overheard. 



Salesman 

(April 5, 1969) 

WHEN Pontius Pilate asked, "What is truth?" he didn't have to wait 
for an answer. It's tougher on us. The question persists we ask 



SALESMAN 151 

it because we breathe and we're no longer allowed to dismiss it as 
hopelessly ironic. Answers, attempts at answers, multiply; and no 
where more than in the film. 

The use of the camera as purported truth-teller began when film 
began. From the start, films bifurcated into those propelled by 
imagination (Melies) and those bent on showing us the world 
of fact that we have not really seen (Lumiere). The former grew 
more directly out of previous art traditions, and their modes, at 
the beginning anyway, were not completely revolutionary. The 
latter were doing something that had never been done before 
still photographs are almost a completely different genus and nearly 
from the beginning there has been an evangelical quality to the men 
who made them. The motions of life around us, they insisted, would 
reveal truths about that life simply by being captured on film and pro 
jected on a screen. The belief has never faltered one of the most 
remarkable examples is Dziga Vertov's The Man with a Movie 
Camera, made in the Soviet Union in 1929 and it has surged in the 
last decade as technical improvements have made filming much more 
flexible; and also as faith in fictive art has been more severely ques 
tioned. Now it's called cinema verite or direct cinema (Vertov called 
it Kino-Truth), but it is the same credo that it has always been. 

Albert and David Maysles are brothers, film makers devoted to the 
possible perception of truth through the close observation of fact. In 
the past twelve years they have spent a lot of time Albert with 
shouldered camera, David with portable tape recorder recording 
the behavior of various people, as spontaneous as they can get it, then 
editing the results into film structures. Their best-known works are 
Showman, about the producer Joseph E. Levine, Marlon Brando, in 
which the star turns TV interviewing on its head, and What's Happen 
ing?, a report on the Beatles' first visit to the U.S. Now they have 
made their first feature for theaters, Salesman. For this they spent 
six weeks with a team of five door-to-door Bible salesmen, in New 
England and Florida, and then spent fifteen months editing their 
footage into a record of several American phenomena, including a 
dying fall in the career of one of the salesmen. 

There are three kinds of episodes in Salesman: calls on prospects, 
scenes in the motels to which the men return at the day's end, and 
the sales conference (in Chicago). Much of it is fascinating. How 
could it be otherwise? There isn't a person who passes in the street 



152 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

whose life we wouldn't spy on, at least for a time, if we had the chance. 
Intrusion into privacy is as human an urge as sex; and it's by no 
means prurience or itch for scandal that drives us. Somehow some 
Great Answer may be hidden behind those window shades. If we only 
knew more about others, we could at least be sure that our own in 
sufficiencies aren't unique. A film that allows us to peek is bound 
to get our attention; and when, like Salesman, it also fixes irrefutably 
some facts about our whole society, it holds that attention longer 
than it might do otherwise. 

Here we get the ugliness of the modern American landscape, what 
Peter Blake has called "God's Own Junkyard." We enter a number 
of homes, which seem to have neon-lighted Miracle Miles running 
right through the living room. (The Maysles brothers have opted to 
show us only poor homes, although these salesmen call on wealthier 
prospects, too.) The sales patter beats and repeats against our ears, 
the phony chumminess with prospects first repels, then numbs with 
compassion for both seller and sellee. That patter is surprisingly 
Catholic: surprisingly because one expects an American Bible sales 
man to be Protestant. It's only in the last fifteen years or so that Bibles 
have been pushed into Catholic homes, so this is the closing of a 
social time gap. 

At night we see the salesmen in their motel rooms, relaxing but 
sot too much. Their straw boss is usually present, and anyway, in 
front of one another, there are jocular guards to be kept up no 
gloating about a good day, no moaning about a poor one. The sales 
conference hi Chicago is, as is the nature of sales conferences, self- 
satirical. 

The picture continues interesting for a good deal of its hour and a 
half. When it begins to seem repetitious, we forgive it at first be 
cause these lives are more incessantly repetitious than most. But 
this is not life, this is a film; we are not co-workers, we are an audi 
ence. Kenneth Burke says: "There is in reality no such general thing 
as a crescendo." The Maysles brothers are aware of this; so, out of 
their material, they have quarried the particular story of one of the 
salesmen, Paul Brennan, and, using the models of fictional narrative, 
they have tried to give it dramatic structure. But life has not co 
operated sufficiently. As drama, the figurative death of this salesman 
lacks the dimension that it needs to be completely engrossing. There 
is material missing of character and conflict and variation that a 



SALESMAN 153 

good scriptwriter could have supplied; and what we are left with 
is the consolation that there was no scriptwriter, that what we see 
is spontaneous and unacted. 

Almost completely. In a few scenes it seems that voices from other 
shots of these men have been laid on the sound track. And there 
are indications of the camera's presence in other scenes. For instance, 
when Brennan comes back after his first bad day, he uses some pro 
fanity (the only time in the film). It has an air of bravado, unnatural 
for him, as if he knew he were being watched and would not be 
cowed. Some of the other men glance at the camera occasionally. 
In his car Brennan plays directly to it in the seat next to him. Heisen- 
berg's law has to be trotted out yet again: the fact of observation in 
itself alters the phenomenon that is observed. The really surprising 
point is that there are moments always solitary, always silent 
when Brennan seems completely to have forgotten the camera and 
simply broods. For me, these were the best moments, not only most 
revealing of him but most supportive of this filming method. 

Also and perhaps this, too, is because the material is given, not 
made the film's viewpoint is unclear. Does it mock the commer 
cialization of religion? No. There are some particularly funny lines 
because of the goods they are selling (Salesman to customer: "Be 
sure to have the Bible blessed, or you won't get the benefit"), but 
the patterns would be virtually identical if they were selling ency 
clopedias or medical reference books. Is the film an indictment of 
sales as the absolutely central American profession? No, the Maysles 
brothers have picked scenes that show selling at its grittiest (in poor 
homes), but the picture's tone is almost as compassionate as mock 
ing. Do they attack selling as corrosive of individuality? No, the 
picture tries to show a lack of congruence between selling and one 
man's character. It's a chronicle of this man's failure, not his sub 
mersion in sales success. Brennan fails because, quite evidently, he 
has no histrionism, no con, which three of his fellows have; he has 
to pump away at it, lamely. Nor does he have the simpleton's sincerity 
that the fifth man has. Bedesman is not a criticism of a vocation or the 
society that produced it. Insofar as it is focused, it's a portrait of a 
man in the wrong vocation. The others are making out, he is not. 
And not because, as far as we can see, he is in any way their supe 
rior. He is simply not up to this particular mark. 

It is this fuzziness of viewpoint and the feeling of plateau that 



154 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

make us feel we are finished with the film before it is over. If "direct 
cinema" (the Maysles phrase) grabs us immediately with a reality 
that fiction takes time to manufacture, with the knowledge that we 
really are there, it has a harder time keeping us there. It lacks the re 
sources that fiction can use to sustain its truth: emphasis, distortion, 
elision, variation, artifice. The most successful direct cinema is, usu 
ally, the film about an intrinsically dramatic subject: Warrendale 
(disturbed children), The Queen (a transvestite beauty contest), 
A Face of War (Vietnam combat) . The daily grind is more difficult. 

What is truth? A modern Pilate might say that it's not the mo 
nopoly of either fact or fiction film, that life is at least as much of a liar 
as art, and that if the life is being observed and recorded and rear 
ranged, the line can get fuzzy. Direct cinema is going to play an in 
creasing part in film making because of its ease (not that it's easy to 
do well but it's easy to do) and because it seems like a blow at false 
ness. But there's one immediate paradox: direct cinema does not 
cut below facts to truth unless the techniques of fiction are applied. 
Another paradox: even though "eavesdropping" material is immedi 
ately gripping, very soon the content has to feed the basic phe 
nomenon. The snooping into fact, in short, must reveal the content of 
art. In Salesman it does, and in considerable measure, but not 
enough. 



Goodbye, Columbus 

(April 12, 1969) 

PHILIP Roth's novella has been made into a film that follows the 
story fairly closely and uses much of the dialogue; yet it ends up as 
one of those pictures that are superficially faithful and intrinsically 
false to their original. Producers used to make obvious mincemeat 
of the novels and plays they filmed; now they are more circumspect 
So goes the middle class cultural revolution. Exteriors now have "in 
tegrity"; only interiors waver or truckle. 

Neil Klugman, lately out of the army, is working in a public li 
brary when he meets Brenda Patimkin, a rich Radcliffe girl on her 



GOODBYE, COLUMBUS 155 

summer vacation. (The locale has been changed from Newark and 
Jersey suburbs to the Bronx and Westchester.) They have an affair. 
In the fall he visits her in Boston and finds that she has probably 
deliberately allowed her parents to learn of the affair. Given the 
conventions of their society, this forces Neil out of Brenda's life. The 
only alternative would be to force him in as husband and son-in-law 
in the business which he doesn't want. He leaves. 

So much thousands of Roth's readers know, and they'll find it all 
in the film. They'll also find a lot of laughs and a few touching 
moments. But there are two big flaws. First, the year has been updated 
from Roth's 1956 to the present. This is ridiculous. The last thirteen 
years have brought enormous changes in young people, in the quality 
of their affections and disaffections. Merely to put in some chat about 
the Pill doesn't update a mid-fifties story that is socially acute in its 
setting. A small point: Can there still be today a big-university gradu 
ate who, like Brenda's brother, collects Kostelanetz and Mantovani 
records? More important: the incident of the Negro boy who comes 
into the library to look at Gauguin seems phony today. Not that it 
couldn't happen; anything can happen; but its use here seems coyly 
humane. (In fact, it's even one of the novella's few weak spots: a 
slightly strained attempt to give Neil a chance to show compassion, 
since he doesn't otherwise express much of it.) But the film's anach 
ronism is sealed by Neil's state of mind and the story's climax. 
The Neil in this 1969 picture is still very much an Eisenhower drifter; 
nothing that happens in a decade and a half sit-ins, assassinations, 
revolts, Vietnam is expressed or implied in anything he says or 
does. Yet he is portrayed as barometric to his Zeitgeist. Similarly, it's 
hard to believe that today Brenda would no longer be able to bring 
Neil home, unaffianced, simply because her parents knew she was 
sleeping with him. The only way that Roth's story can still hold as 
it does hold in print is as a period piece. A period is a decade 
nowadays, at the most. 

Second, the film is hyperconscious of what Roth takes in his stride: 
his Jews and their Jewishness. Roth concentrates intensely on what 
Neil does, sees, hears, and thinks, and, because Neil is Jewish, in a 
certain time and society, as are most of his friends, a certain Ameri 
can-Jewish society is in the novella. But the film concentrates at least 
as much on milieu as on character. The producer and director and 
screenwriter are feeling so courageous at making a noncomplimentary 



156 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

picture about Jews that they can't restrain their courage. When Neil 
goes to the Patimkin house, all the family eat noisily. (Except 
Brenda, and why is she an exception?) When the father reaches for 
food, the camera is on the table and his hand looms up like a steam 
shovel. (Roth tells us that the family heaped and gorged, but Neil's 
feeling is not the disgust that this film dinner evokes.) Examples 
could be multiplied. No choice in the casting of the peripheral roles, 
BO reading of line, no framing of an action fails to proclaim that the 
Jewish producer and director and screenwriter are pulling no punches. 
But Roth didn't punch at all. 

The director is Larry Peerce, who made The Incident, which un 
fortunately I didn't see, and One Potato, Two Potato, which unfortu 
nately I saw. He is another brightnik who goes to the movies so much 
that he hasn't yet had time to become Larry Peerce. His film is satu 
rated with other films. The very first shot a huge close-up of a 
girl's navel (she's in a bikini) is right out of Godard's The Married 
Woman. Memories of Truffaut bedeck the falling-in-love scenes. 
With Gerald Hirschfeld's unsubtle color camera, Peerce pretties up a 
park sequence and supplies the obligatory slow motion when Brenda 
runs (almost) naked to the pool. With Ralph Rosenblum's rather 
tense assistance, Peerce edits by "linkage" (a la Pudovkin) : he cuts 
from the steam of an overheated car to the steam of a pot on a stove. 
The trouble is that neither the car nor the juxtaposition itself has a 
bloody thing to do with the film. He also edits by "collision" (a la 
Eisenstein): he cuts from two bodies coming together to a tight 
close-up of a red roast of beef on the dinner table. But what for? What 
does it do besides shock? There is even a reminder of The Graduate. 
Early in Nichols' film, Anne Bancroft's naked body is reflected briefly 
in the glass over her daughter's portrait as she tries to seduce 
Benjamin. Here, Peerce's camera follows Brenda from bed to bath 
room until it reaches her father's picture on the bedroom wall, hang 
ing right over a mirror in which Neil can be seen in the bed. Nichols 
wanted his touch to be subliminal and was, obviously, willing to let 
you miss it rather than pound it. Peerce makes damned sure that you 
get it. He shows some ingenuity, but, so far, he's short on taste and 
tone. 

He does have a feeling for the pace of dialogue. And he handles 
the last meeting well, in the Boston hotel bedroom. Here he uses 
large profile close-ups of Brenda and Neil for the first time, alternating 



GOODBYE, COLUMBUS 157 

on opposite sides of the screen, and the images support the pyramidal 
feeling of the scene. Then he dollies hi slowly on Neil, cutting back to 
Brenda a couple of times, which heightens the sense of her trying 
to delay Neil's realization of what she has done. 

Richard Benjamin, the Neil, provides more of the performance that 
I saw in a Broadway comedy called Star Spangled Girl (one act) and 
in a TV comedy series (ten minutes). He has vernacular skill and 
neat party-patter timing, but he reads all his lines to the same effect: 
the sensitive youth who uses a defense of sharpness and indifference. 
The best thing about him is that he creates a certain individuality with 
out coming on strong; the worst thing is that, if you have seen him 
before, you know he is not playing Neil, lie is using the role as a 
vehicle to deliver more of a situation-comedy formula he has 
developed. 

Ali MacGraw, the Brenda, is a newcomer, a former fashion model. 
She is pretty and has charm, but I couldn't connect her with her 
screen family even in opposition to it. Jack Klugman, the father, 
could have been good if Peerce were better. Nan Martin, the mother, 
has the right gold-plated metallic ring. 

When the social comment in the film is merely dropped in, it's keen. 
After a long shot of the flower-stuffed ballroom where Brenda's 
brother is being married, the camera fixes on the rabbi, with his white- 
on-white tie, intoning Hebrew. The ancient prayer hi a ballroom, 
along with the flowers and the tie, tell us about one-generation social 
mobility. And, at this wedding, there is an apparently Gentile photog 
rapher wearing a white satin yarmulke (skullcap) which enables him 
to move about during the ceremony. Nothing is made of the matter, 
so it is effective. 

But, for all the good touches, what is missed is what Roth achieved: 
the telling of an American story about American Jews. Essentially, 
allowing for changes of detail, Neil is a Fitzgerald hero yearning up 
ward toward a golden girl of wealth and "class." Goodbye, Columbus 
even has a good deal of the Great Gatsby climate: the swirnrxiing, the 
tennis, the affair that blooms in summer and ends in the melandboly 
fall. But the film is less like Gatsby and more like Scuba Duba. 



158 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

The Red and the White 



{April 19, 1969) 



OVER the hill a band of cavalrymen gallop to us in slow motion. A 
dream of war. It's the only slow-motion sequence, this first scene of 
The Red and the White, but it sets the key of the picture: harsh 
killings, brusque executions, irrational reversals and dominations, all 
blurring their hard edges into a kind of dream. 

Miklos Jancso is a Hungarian Communist, now forty-eight. AH 
these facts are relevant, together with the fact that he is an excep 
tionally gifted director. Younger directors of the Eastern European 
countries are less likely to deal with the establishment of the first 
Communist state in this bardic manner, at any rate. And Jancso has 
focused on the Hungarians who fought with the Reds against the 
Whites. His script, which he wrote with two collaborators and filmed 
in 1967, centers first on a monastery which serves as headquarters in 
turn for Reds and Whites; then on a White hospital, with some Red 
patients, which is captured by Reds. 

This alternating control of the monastery, of the hospital, of death 
is the theme. Sometimes the power shifts are so fluid that we are 
momentarily confused about who is who. That, I think, is Jancso's 
purpose moral, not cynical: to show us that, ultimately, it is men 
who are killing indistinguishable men. There is no preachment (un 
til the very end); the intensity of each officer's belief in what he does, 
the blind obedience of each soldier, the impersonal juggernaut rolling 
over men whose own actions helped create the juggernaut that rolls 
over them all these make the picture true and numbing. 

The sense of history, snatched back and repeated for us, is possible 
because Jancso is an epic director, and not in the ad-copy meaning. 
He disclaims any comparison with Eisenstein, which is wise of him 
because the connections are clear, although they are filtered through 
a more modern sensibility. Like Eisenstein, he uses a great many long 
tracking shots, but he adds the latter-day (Kurosawa) touch of switch 
ing a motion to a contrary direction without cutting as the interest 
of other characters takes the scene away. Like Eisenstein, Jancso 
relies heavily on the texture of locale: the white odd monastery struc 
tures, its galleries and courts; the sedgy bank of the river. (The black- 



THE RED AND THE WHITE 159 

and-white photography by Tamas Somlo is in marvelously composed 
CinemaScope.) Like Eisenstein, Jancso brings characters close to 
our eyes for a few minutes, then lets them slip out of the film: a 
sparrowlike White general who disposes of prisoners' lives like a fussy 
old schoolmaster; a Cossack who is prevented from raping a peasant 
girl, then poses for his execution with affected boredom; a Hungarian 
Red soldier hi his forties who, in a few appearances, conveys patient 
impotence before he is killed. None of the doomed men, on either 
side, struggles before he is executed. The effect is not heroism but 
acceptance of role. 

"Come over here" and "Go over there" these two orders are 
overused. Prisoners obey these commands, moving to one spot or 
another, while officers decide what to do with them. The point, I 
suppose, is to show that commanders must command, even when 
they are not sure what the command ought to be, but the repetition 
makes the film drag a bit at times. However, two other sequences that 
promise to be weary work out quite well. A sex episode seems to start 
quite arbitrarily, but it is interrupted and cruelly finished in a way 
that binds it to the film. Then there is a sequence in which White 
officers make some of the nurses dance for them in the midst of a 
birch woods. It could have been hellishly symbolic and is not really 
digested, but at least it is pictorially bearable. 

One last demurrer. The final two scenes are so contrary in spirit to 
the rest of the film that I suspect they were foisted on the picture. 
(This is a Hungarian-USSR coproduction.) Suddenly the prisoners 
of history become cinematic heroes, and a small band of Reds march 
to panoramic death, singing the Internationale; soon after, they get 
a saber salute from a survivor. This ending is not merely disjunctive; 
the script is supposed to have derived from Babel, and when one 
thinks of Babel's fate hi the Soviet future, this finale is worse than 
bitter. 

But for the most part, The Red and the White deals with an ideo 
logical struggle hi beautiful and humanly contradictory terms. This 
gives extra dimension to Jancso's classical, large-scale talent. 



160 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Lola Mantes 

(May 3, 1969} 

MAX Ophuls' Lola Monies was made in 1955, in France and Bavaria, 
and, except for some festival showings, is now seen here for the first 
time in unmutilated form. (A butchered, dubbed version was released 
in 1959.) This is an important event both because of what the fflm 
is and is not, and because of what it crystallizes in critical approaches. 

Lola Monies was Ophuls' last work; he died in 1957. He was a 
German Jew, born Max Oppenheimer, who changed his name because 
his family objected to his becoming an actor. By the time he was 
twenty-two, in 1924, he had become a theater director and by 1930 
is said to have directed almost two hundred productions, including 
some work at the Burgtheater in Vienna. He began directing films in 
1930 and, for obvious reasons, began directing elsewhere in 1932 
France, Italy, Holland, Switzerland. By 1941 he was in Hollywood 
but did not make his first American film until 1947. He did four 
pictures in the U.S.; probably the best known is Letter from an Un 
known Woman. He returned to France in 1949 and made four more 
pictures. Preceding Lola Mantes were La Ronde, Le Plaisir, and The 
Earrings of Madame de . . . 

Some critics consider Lola Monies to be C the greatest film of all 
time. 3 ' To say that I disagree is not merely to quibble with the phrase 
"all time" as applied to a seventy-five-year-old art; not merely to 
deplore the facileness with which the accolade of greatness is broad 
cast in film criticism; it is to differ thoroughly and fundamentally 
about the means and potentials of film. Some Lola lovers concur about 
some of the flaws 111 describe; but they give different weight to those 
flaws. That is the heart of the argument. 

The film tells the story a version of it, anyway of the famous 
nineteenth-century dancer-courtesan. It begins with the older Lola, 
playing in a circus in New Orleans. She sits in the center of the ring, 
as the ringmaster narrates her life, and the bulk of the film is in flash 
back. We see the end of her affair with Franz Liszt, her (earlier) 
marriage to her mother's lover, some other embroilments, and her 
affair with King Ludwig of Bavaria. Throughout, we keep returning 
to the circus, and it ends there, with people streaming forward to pay 



LOLA MONTHS 161 

a dollar to kiss the hand of Lola, seated in a cage. Thus the structure 
is cyclical. The cyclical had always appealed to Ophuls: the idea 
and very title of La Ronde (made from Schnitder's Reigen); the 
reappearance of the earrings in Madame de . . .; the recurrence of 
the lover in Letter from an Unknown Woman. In Lola the circus 
ring itself underscores the cyclical motif. 

From first moment to last, Lola Monies is treasure for the eye, 
abundant, exciting in its abundance, rich in what Ophuls includes and 
in the way he handles it. The first things we see are two gorgeous 
chandeliers descending from a height. (Suggested to Ophuls by the 
Josefstadt Theater in Vienna?) The chandeliers pass a circus band 
whose leader is in Uncle Sam costume; and the camera, ever moving, 
then picks up the ringmaster as he enters. He walks past a multi- 
leveled swirl of activity to the center of the ring, in front of two parallel 
lines of girls who proceed to juggle ninepins and to comment in 
chorus on the tale the ringmaster is telling in flamboyant style. Soon 
Lola makes her entrance in a gorgeous carriage and is borne to the 
center. All this to a counterpoint of changing lights and bizarre cos 
tumes. (The film is in color and CinemaScope.) The effect of 
glittering chaos falling marvelously into order is precisely the same 
as in the opera house sequence of Citizen Kane and for the same 
reason, I would guess: both Ophuls and Welles had large theatrical 
experience. The changes of light within a scene dimmings, swellings, 
pinpointings, falls of color and the knowing use of entrances, these 
are marks of stage experience. 

The most noted hallmark of Ophuls' film style is his moving camera 
and his cuts from one moving shot to another. Here in the beginning 
it is used to create a sense of overture, partly by the way the camera 
grandly ignores the richness of what is happening behind or in passing, 
The combination of swirl and prodigality promises us largesse: we 
needn't bother about that dwarf or those splendid horses or that 
bevy of girls; a great deal is going to spill on the screen. 

And it does spill. This is not a matter of purchased Hollywood 
extravagance. It is Ophuls' gift for selecting the right element of 
decor, like the low Gothic arch in Liszt's room; for layering every 
scene with planes of detail ("Details make art," he said) so that the 
characters are always moving through a world that just happens to tell 
as something relevant or characteristic about itself at the moment 
they pass. Examples: the hens roosting aft the way up the narrow inn 



162 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

steps; the maimed soldier in Ludwig's castle, past whom the servants 
have to run when they are on a trifling errand for the king in whose 
service this man lost his leg; the clown, with whom Lola's doctor waits, 
who has the voice and demeanor of a prime minister. And, always, 
these excellent touches are ignored. 

The visual virtuosity is also in what is done, as well as in the 
materials included: Lieutenant James chasing Lola crisscross through 
the descending galleries of the theater; the rope that swin^ from the 
stage flies in the foreground as, behind it, Ludwig expresses interest 
in Lola; the students running toward us down a long ramp to meet 
Lola's carriage at an angle near the camera; the very last shot, in 
which the camera pulls back over the hordes advancing on Lola until 
we are far from her. No fadeout; in the theatrical vein of the film, the 
curtains close. 

All this is superb. There is not a flaw in the mise en scene, not a 
dull frame for the eye. (Well, one reservation: Ophuls either detested 
or feared CinemaScope and, in some intimate scenes, he puts arbitrary 
shadows at the edges to narrow the picture.) But after it's all over 
before then we are faced with the Chesterton comment. The first 
time G. K. Chesterton walked down Broadway at night past the 
flashing electric advertisements, he said, "What a wonderful experi 
ence this must be for someone who can't read." In the case of Lola, 
one might add: "Or for those who want to pretend that they can't 
read." 

For the script of Lola is just one more teary version of the Prostitute 
with the Heart of Gold, the whore ennobled by whoring, whom all 
her friends adore. The matters that made the real Lola an extraor 
dinary woman are omitted completely; we are given only the 
picture of a woman turned to sexual adventuring by her mother's 
callousness; who makes her way with her loins; who dramatizes fare 
wells a bit and can develop a little tenderness if the man is a king who 
gives her a palace; but is only an adventuress, with a touch of Carmen 
deviltry. To see this Lola as a mythopoeic figure of romance or a 
figure of the Eternal Feminine, to posit that her story is related to 
our culture's concepts of romance, is to me a quasi-adolescent in 
sistence on glorifying whores. The difference between, say, Dumas's 
Marguerite Gauthier and Ophuls* Lola is one between an early attempt 
to show the particularized humanity of a type and the luxuriant 
exploitation of the type itself. 



LOLA MONTES 163 

The acting of most of the principals is very bad. The late Martine 
Carol, who is Lola, never could act, and here she doesn't even look 
pretty. Ophuls spent little time on making her face attractive, even in 
her younger scenes. Oskar Werner, as her German-student lover, is 
waxen-faced and cutesy (miscast as a twenty-year-old). Will Quad- 
flieg and Ivan Desny as Liszt and James are sticks. Peter Ustinov, the 
ringmaster, has merely a fraction of the modulation and shading that 
he showed in his recent pastry Hot Millions. Only Anton Walbrook as 
Ludwig is substantial. 

Some of the Lola admirers might agree with all of this; all of them 
might agree with some of it. Together they reject its relevance. Why? 
Because they subscribe, with passionate and unquestionable convic 
tion, to a theory of the hierarchy of film values. They believe in select 
ing and exalting sheerly cinematic values, like the matters I praised 
earlier, and in subordinating or discounting such matters as those I 
objected to. To them, this is exultation hi the true glory of cinema. 

To me, it is a derogation and patronization of cinema. To me, this 
hierarchy says: "This is what film can do and we mustn't really expect 
it to do any more, mustn't be disappointed if this is all it does." A 
chief motive behind the hierarchy is to avoid discussion of the 
strictured elements forced on film making by the ever-present money 
men. Lola was commissioned as an expensive showcase for Martine 
Carol. The money men foisted Miss Carol and a cheap novel by 
the author of Caroline Cherie on Ophuls, so let* s not criticize those 
elements, let's concentrate on Ophuls' marvelous decor, detail, and 
camera movement and, by the simple act of appropriate omission, 
presto, we have a masterpiece. 

I disbelieve in this hierarchy. There are money men involved in 
every art. No one would dream of praising an architect because he 
designed his interiors well, if he had debased his overall form to 
please his client's pocketbook. Why a special leniency for film? 

Why indeed in the face of the fact that film has proved it doesn't 
need it, has achieved thoroughly fine work? The worst aspect of this 
approach is that it crimps the film out of its cultural heritage the 
cinematic and the literary and theatrical and psychological and social- 
political and says to it, "Just go and be cinematic. If anything else 
is achieved, good. If not, no great matter." It is an esthetic equivalent 
of the Victorian ethic of "knowing your place." 

This concentration on part of a work leads to inflation of the value 



164 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

of that part. Ophuls, who in some ways was masterly, is extolled as 
a master of romance. To speak only of Lola, I see him sheerly as 
cynic, burdened with this trumpery novel and this mammary star 
and deciding to give it back to the world in spades. One critic en 
visions Lola in the circus as a presence "redeeming all men both as a 
woman and as an artistic creation." This woman? This artistic crea 
tion? The last scene, in which the crowd presses forward to buy kisses 
of the caged Lola, gave me a vision of Ophuls himself chuckling at the 
Yahoos who are wonder-struck by this earlier Zsa Zsa Gabor, this 
"celebrity" in the word's synthetic present-day sense, a crowd scrab 
bling to pay for a touch of this scandal-sheet goddess. And I also had a 
concentric vision of Ophuls chuckling at his film audiences, as they 
press forward to pay for a chance to adulate his caged talent. 

Let me give the last word, on this matter of exalting a medium in 
itself, to the German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Writing about 
McLuhan in the latest Partisan Review, Enzensberger says: 

It is all too easy to see why the slogan "The medium is the message" has 
met with unbounded enthusiasm on the part of the media, since it does 
away, by a quick fix worthy of a card-sharp, with the question of truth. 
Whether the message is a lie or not has become irrelevant, since in the 
light of McLuhanism truth itself resides in the very existence of the 
medium, no matter what it may convey. . . . 



The Lores of Isadora 

(May 17, 1969} 

KAREL Reisz's film about Isadora Duncan, originally called Isadora, 
opened in Los Angeles in December, to qualify for Academy Award 
nomination, with a running time of about three hours and with an 
intermission. After some adverse notice, it was cut to 150 minutes 
without intermission. It is now released in a 130-minute version with 
its title amplified to the above. I have seen only this last version. I'm 
told by a critic who has seen all three versions that the structure has 
been drastically changed. Whether this was done with Reisz's help, 
consent, abstention, or disapproval, I cannot say; but I emphasize 



THE LOVES OF ISADORA 165 

that my comments pertain only to the third version. Whether those 
earlier versions were better or worse in total effect, they may have cov 
ered some omissions that I note. 

The producers of a film usually have control of the film, and often 
they change it against its director's wishes. When a critic says that 
"Director Jones has done thus and such," he knows he may be speak 
ing figuratively, that Jones may not be responsible for all defects or 
all virtues, that the phrase "Director Jones" is a convenience meaning 
"Jones and those who affected his work." A director protests publicly 
against alteration at his peril; protest doesn't brighten his chances of 
future employment. 

So here is The Loves of Isadora, the work of Karel Reisz and the 
producers Robert and Raymond Hakim and some unidentified Uni 
versal executives. What hath this conglomerate wrought? On the basis 
of what is left, the first thing to note is the structural resemblance to 
Lola Monies. This is the story of a celebrated theatrical woman's life 
with heavy emphasis on her love affairs, told hi flashback with fre 
quent returns to the "present," where it ends. Second, the dialogue by 
Melvyn Bragg, Clive Extort, and Margaret Drabble is of torturous 
banality. Third, Isadora is largely absent. 

No one could gather from this film that Isadora was an important 
artist ("She was the greatest American gift to the art of dance," said 
Michel Fokine), a symbol of general cultural forces hi explosion and 
a lasting influence on the dance. The film, as presented, focuses on 
her men and her egocentricities, with just enough Greek tunics and 
esthetic asseveration to make her a sort of arty nut, thus justifying to 
herself and us her bohemian behavior. The result is one more picture 
about a temperamental star who has lots of lovers artists and mil 
lionaires and ends up broke. As a dancer, as an artist, this Isadora 
is about as interesting as Garbo's ballerina in Grand Hotel. 

What did ancient Greece mean in the life of this Isadora? Well, I 
think I remember a few fast flashes of some temples in an early 
montage and a glimpse of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. 
So much for the entire esthetic base of her life. What is shown of her 
relation to the dance of her time? Nothing. She never sees another 
dance or meets another dancer. So much to name just one significant 
example for her influence on Fokine. What of her friendship with 
Duse, her integration with the stirrings of modern consciousness in all 
the arts? Nothing. Anyone who wants to find out what Isadora was 



166 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

like both as amorist and artist would do much better to read the 
sk pages about her in Dos Passes' The Big Money. 

And anyone who has been trying to cling to some shreds of regard 
for Reisz had better skip this picture. (I'm speaking only of elements 
that must be his work.) He made his feature debut in 1960 with 
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was crisp and forceful. 
Then followed a remake of Night Must Fall, so complete a disaster 
that I couldn't even hold it against him; it seemed more an aberration 
than a failure. Morgan! was just enough of a disaster so that Reisz had 
to take responsibility for its diffuseness. In what is left of Isadora, 
the scenes as shot and surely no one else did the shooting match 
the banality of the dialogue. All Reisz's concepts are hard-ticket, 
movie-spectacle cliches. Take, for instance, Isadora's first stage ap 
pearance, in a San Francisco saloon: sure enough, we get the stale 
argument with the reluctant manager and the intercut shots of gaping 
ruffians with beer mugs. (Those ruffians are possibly the busiest actors 
in films. Seemingly the same rough faces are overcome by talent and 
beauty in Arizona and Australia and South Africa. Julie Andrews 
conquered them last in London's East End in Star!) 

The cliches thunder on. When the lights fail during a dance recital 
for soldiers of the new Soviet Union, the goodhearted fellows break 
into song as Isadora holds a lamp aloft for them. All that differentiates 
the scene from Jeanette MacDonald solacing the troops is the absence 
of a soprano obbligato. The idea of the scene, from the directorial 
view, is sheer Romberg. When Isadora dances in Boston, the outrage 
of the audience is intercut with the fulminations of a street evangelist 
outside in a style that might have been thought offensively mechanical 
at RKO in 1935. This sequence is a unit; I doubt that it has been much 
changed by other hands; and it comes from Reisz, author of the best 
text on the subject, The Technique of Film Editing. There is scarcely 
a trace anywhere in the filrn of the intelligence or imagination that 
might once have been expected of him. Oh, yes, there's a lot of mist in 
some of the lawn scenes. Possibly it was left over from those Tom 
Jones lawns and just drifted in. 

James Fox is brisk and personable as James Fox in a moustache. 
He's called Gordon Craig, but there's no need to fuss about that. (The 
script doesn't even get its amorous facts straight; Craig was not Isa 
dora's first lover.) Jason Robards, who is Isadora's millionaire, is mis 
cast yet again in a genteel part and is yet again dull in it Anywhere 



THE LOVES OF ISADORA 167 

but a saloon he is uninteresting. As with Isadora, the emphasis with 
Sergei Essenin, played by Ivan Tchenko, is on outrageous behavior, 
with little conviction of the truly great artist at the center, in whom 
the outrage was peripheral. John Fraser has nice peevish devotion 
as Isadora's latter-day aide; and there is a funny scene in which Ina 
De La Haye plays a shocked Russian teacher. 

This brings us to Vanessa Redgrave, the Isadora, and the subject 
of egomania, its curses and blessings. Only an egomaniac could have 
agreed to show us how Isadora danced a number of times, too. 
Miss Redgrave, who cannot really dance at all, boldly attempts to 
recreate the genius of a great, unique dancer. It's a good deal more 
hazardous than, say, Richard Burton trying to recreate Edwin Booth's 
genius in Prince of Players. 

On the other hand, egomania is probably essential to extraordinary 
acting talent. If we ignore the contradiction between Miss Redgrave's 
dancing and what everyone says about it, then what there is of 
legitimacy in the film comes from her acting. Take such a familiar 
scene as the one in which they place a newborn baby on the pillow 
next to the mother. With her freshening imagination, with the 
uniqueness that she has in her art, Miss Redgrave makes the scene 
new, as if it were the first time we had ever seen it on the screen. 
When she drives through a tunnel and feels memory and foreboding, 
the shadow of death really seems to touch her. In her 1927 turban, she 
moves around the Riviera like an exiled queen with a rag or two left 
of her court. In these scenes she provides the best job of voice aging 
I have heard since Peggy Ashcroft got old in Edward, My Son on 
Broadway; and, throughout, she has fair success with her American 
accent. 

What we get from her as she is allowed is a gawky, beautiful 
Calif ornian girl, brimming over with fin de siecle dedication to Beauty, 
a term she uses indiscriminately for art and sex. Insofar as this de 
scribes Isadora Duncan, which is not very far, Miss Redgrave has 
created the character. 

"She was afraid of nothing; she was a great dancer." Dos Passes* 
statement is simple, beautiful, complete. There was a film to be made 
of Isadora's life, with Miss Redgrave: one that did not could not 
show her dancing yet that showed why she was fearless; that showed 
her as an artistic force; that showed her private life as inevitable for 
a woman with her hierarchy of values, her extravagances as the frenzy 



168 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

of genius; that showed her as one of the cultural proofs that the 
twentieth century exists. This long but tiny film no matter who did 
what to it is a mockery of her. 



The Round Up 

(.May 24, 1969) 

THE success of Miklos Jancso's The Red and the White (1967) has 
quickly brought us his earlier picture The Round Up (1965). What 
was apparent in the former film is now confirmed: this Hungarian 
must be ranked among important living directors. 

The Round Up deals with the extirpation of revolt. Twenty years 
after 1848, there are still Hungarian followers of the exiled Kossuth 
who are making trouble for the Austrian authorities. We see how they 
are hunted down. The setting the sole setting is a stockade in the 
middle of an immense plain. (Which reminds us that much of Central 
Europe is flat. Fine battle country.) A number of farmers and sheep- 
herders have been corraled. The authorities know that a rebel leader 
and his band are among the prisoners but are unable to identify them. 
The story is a series of tactics to isolate the outlaws. Stool pigeons and 
murder are involved. 

As in his subsequent film, Jancso has had the help of his cinema- 
tographer, Tamas Somlo, not merely to put the story on film but to 
render it in images to transform the film's concerns into light and 
shadow and plane and flow of motion. Again the picture is black-and- 
white, which suits its parabolic intensity, as if color would figuratively 
have clothed a film that needs figuratively to be naked. Again it is 
wide-screen, to cope with the immense landscape and the rivulet of 
history running through it. 

History is the key word in considering Jancso. He has said that his 
aim in these two films was to clarify the Hungarian past for Hun 
garians: that he grew up in "the main body of the heroic age of build 
ing socialism" (he is forty-eight) and that he shared the "shock when 
we recognized that, side by side with basically right endeavors, grave 
mistakes were committed also by us." Specifically in The Round 



THE ROUND UP 169 

Up he wanted to smash silly conceptions of outlawry and rebellion, 
"this phony-romantic conception of the Magyar spirit, this conception 
which wants to gloss over reality." Yet the picture is not authoritarian; 
its sympathy is entirely with the rebels. Nor is it cynical and defeatist, 
although it ends with the authorities' victory. It seems to me realistic: 
it faces the fact that, given equal determination on both sides, superior 
force wins, not superior ideals. Gyula Maar writes in the New Hun 
garian Quarterly (Winter 1968) : 

[The Round Up] examines a legend, the romantic legend of the world of 
outlaws, and breaks it to pieces by showing how it works, the mechanism 
of the power-enforcement organization and the machinery of oppression. 

Jancso is not trying to disprove the existence of selflessness and 
heroism. He is trying to show the realistic difference between dying 
for a belief (which may be a kind of vanity) and helping that belief to 
prevail, at least for a while. 

Cinematically, too, he has applied contemporary perspective to tradi 
tional materials. This has been done before, of course: for instance, 
Mario Monicelli did it with the subject of labor struggles in The 
Organizer (1963). Jancso works with harsh whites, sudden blacks, 
lone figures against plaster walls, silhouettes against the stretching 
immensity of the horizon. The people in these compositions also seem 
elements in a metaphorical composition as in Bergman, whom 
Jancso claims as one of his masters. This is made even more poignant 
by the strength of their faces. Even without our contravening Jancso's 
purpose, without romanticizing about high cheekbones and fierce 
noses and fur capes, we can still get from Ms actors a sense of centrip 
etal ethnic force. His overall structure, too, mitigates against a ballad 
swell of heroism. Episodes slip into the center of our attention and 
out again, finished often with a death: and the casual air seems to 
say that design in life is a function of retrospect. 

All through The Round Up there are elements that were used later 
in The Red and the White: the white walls, the shock of female nudity 
in military surroundings (women stripped by captors), prisoners' 
suicide by leaping from heights, the fiddling of commanders with petty 
commands. (Also some faces are recognizable from the later 
picture.) What we are spared here is the hearts-aflame finish of The 
Red and the White, which was a coproduction with the Soviet Union, 



170 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

This film sticks to its grim guns. But I also disliked the very last shot 
of The Round Up for quite different reasons. It's a freeze frame: 
not merely a whacking cliche by now but a stylistic break with 
the rest of the film, which is in large Eisensteinian curves. This last- 
second bid for vogue is quite a different matter from the modernity 
of concept that has operated throughout. 

The Red and the White had its draggy moments, and there are 
somewhat more in The Round Up. Jancso says he depends very much 
on his editor, Zoltan Farkas, who is his "first critic." Farkas was more 
stringent with the later film and, I hope, will grow even more so. It's 
a matter of trifles all along the way: a second or two here, sometimes a 
very brief superfluous scene, but these trifles add up distractingly 
and divert us from the image to the thought of the image makers. 
Jancso's work, moment by moment, is more potent than either he or 
Farkas completely realizes. Less would do more. Less would keep the 
moving pictures from occasionally lapsing into unmoving pictur- 
esqueness. 

But, as I noted earlier, Jancso is one of that now rare breed, the 
truly epic directors. He is able to depict history and the people snared 
in it, and without trying to recreate the Battle of Borodino. The two 
films of his that have been seen here are attempts to accommodate 
individual psychological verities with basic Marxist views of absolute 
purpose. Both films have been highly impressive in style and scope. 
He made a new film in 1968, and he had made four before The 
Round Up. I hope that they are all on their way here. 



Midnight Cowboy 

(June 7, 1969) 

JOHN Schlesinger has made a film of James Leo Herlihy's novel 
(1965), which I reviewed elsewhere. The works are sufficiently alike 
so that I won't paraphrase, I'll quote some of my review of the book: 

Joe Buck is a twenty-five-year-old Southwesterner, an illegitimate child 
who was brought up by his wayward grandmother. After her death, he 



MIDNIGHT COWBOY 171 

makes his way, eventually, to New York in a new cowboy outfit (although 
he has never been a cowhand), believing that he can earn a fortune stud 
ding for rich ladies. But he is not a knowledgeable operator; he Is an 
ignorant, likeable gull. He has never really had a friend and has never 
really been taught anything. All he confidently knows is the sexual act, 
and he has believed the myths he has heard about the use he can make of 
his youthful vigor hi the big town. Those myths have filled the vacuum 
in him of knowledge and ideals. 

He arrives in New York to take and, of course, is taken . . . but in the 
course of all this, he makes the first friend of his life a runty, crippled 
Italian-American pickpocket-pimp from the Bronx. 

Herlihy's compassionate but relatively unsentimental American- 
Candide style made the book bloom like a flower in the gutter. Schle- 
singer has understood the book; with intelligence, flourish, and 
extraordinary skill, he has made an unusually moving film. 

His first decision, apparently, was not to tell the story straight. 
Possibly because he has a visitor's eye, Schlesinger, an Englishman, 
chose to make a film of present-day American culture with Joe's story 
as the dominant element in it. The very first sounds we hear are pistol 
shots and hoofs, and the camera pulls back from a white screen to 
reveal that it is a white screen in an empty Texas drive-in by day. 
Then, as a tingling, taking song called "Everybody's Talkin' " comes 
on strong, we see Joe Buck in his room preening to leave, intercut 
with the diner and the boss that he is leaving. Soon Joe is on the New 
York bus. Sharp flashbacks indicate (sketchily) who and why Joe is, 
and there are also sharp flashes out Joe's window of bare yet garish 
roadside America. (The Texas of Hud comes inescapably to mind 
and, as if to confirm this, a Paul Newman poster later comes out of 
Joe's suitcase.) Joe's transistor radio, his electronic rosary, is always 
in his hands, telling him instead of vice versa. As he enters New 
York, we "see" the faces of women in a street-interview radio show 
to which he is listening, and soon we are really in the streets. A con 
stant weave of Broadway doorways, weather-and-time signs, neon ads, 
and thick yellow chunks of taxi blob soon envelops Joe and quickly 
converts him into some more flotsam in the jetsam. 

Schlesinger's sense of pace is so fine that the whirling surface of the 
film is quite firm; and of course, part of that sense is knowing when 
to slow down, when to let a scene breathe. In his methods he has at 
least two hallmarks. One, which I noted in his first feature, A Kind of 



172 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Loving (1962), is the use of subsidiary action to keep a patch of 
dialogue from getting static. Example: Joe and his friend, Ratso, are 
talking in a luncheonette and, at the counter far behind them, a stri 
dent woman is telling someone an irrelevant story that we never quite 
hear but that contributes life to the scene. And Schlesinger likes to 
begin a sequence with a close-up of some oblique motion that slides 
us into the center. Example: we follow two drinks on a tray that end 
up on a sidewalk cafe table just as Joe and Ratso pass. And the very 
way that Ratso enters this film is an inspired touch. After the picture 
is well along, after we have actually forgotten that Dustin Hoffman 
is one of the stars, the camera slides down a crowded Broadway bar, 
until it reaches Joe. Then we realize that the person next to Joe is 
not one more extra, it is Hoffman as Ratso, who strikes up a conversa 
tion and launches himself into the story. It's not only a nice twist on 
Schlesinger's oblique device, it also, figuratively, binds the New York 
environment closer to Joe. 

Schlesinger, an ex-actor, is good with actors. Jon Voight makes his 
screen debut as Joe, and he is excellent. I've been admiring Voight's 
theater performances for the past several years. (He was Rodolpho 
in the off-Broadway production of View from the Bridge, for which 
Hoffman was assistant stage manager and understudy 1) Here Voight 
creates the peculiar innocence of this pubic Parsifal, a man who 
knows he has set out on an immoral profession but who is completely 
goodhearted, who reacts directly, even naively, to everything. (As 
compared with Ratso, who "translates" everything coming in his ears 
and going out his mouth.) There is never a moment's doubt of Joe's 
reality, principally because of the way Voight uses his eyes: like a 
child. And he has caught perfectly the Texan speech; listen to the Fs 
when he says "Sally." The film is Joe's drama, and Voight has aH 
the resources to keep him interesting, vulnerable, true. 

Except for a short, this is Dustin Hoffman's first screen appearance 
since The Graduate. He has chosen shrewdly, and he plays Ratso 
shrewdly. There isn't a young character actor around who wouldn't 
pay for the chance to play the part: a crippled guttersnipe, tricky but 
winning, who has green teeth and lank dirty hair, and who, to top 
it all, is dying of consumption. In sum, an actor's dream. Hoffman 
utilizes all these assets well; he proves again that he is versatile and 
gifted, no Mike Nichols creation (although Nichols certainly helped 
him) . He has a central vision of Ratso which he has worked out, as 



MIDNIGHT COWBOY 173 

he always does, to the last small physical habit. (I saw him again the 
other night as the crabbed St. Petersburg clerk in the NET production 
of Journey of the Fifth Horse and, besides different makeup and voice, 
I swear he had different arms.) Here he sometimes uses fairly facile 
means to get laughs at his commonness, something like a revue-sketch 
performer playing a New York tough. But the light in his eyes is true 
weasel light; his discovery of brotherhood is grudgingly real; and the 
key moments, far beyond the reach of any nightclub mimic, are beau 
tiful. I won't easily forget Hoffman shivering on the cot in their dingy 
room, saying fearfully to Joe, "Hey, don't get sore ... but I don't 
think I can walk any more." 

Sylvia Miles gives sexy brass to a call girl who spends a busman's 
holiday with Joe. Brenda Vaccaro is the career girl who engages him 
for a night; but instead of acting, she relies on our recognition of hip 
mannerisms. John McGiver and Barnard Hughes are sound as two 
unsound older men. 

So much of this film is exceptionally good that its uneasy spots are 
especially troublesome. Ratso's fantasies, visualized for us, mar the 
viewpoint of the film, which is generally and rightly Joe's; and the 
fantasies themselves are trite. The Warhol-type party, with Warhol 
types, looks more like Schlesinger the tourist-shopper than the artist; 
anyway, can't we have an international statute against trying to depict 
decadence through wild parties? It never has worked, from Intolerance 
to La Dolce Vita to Schlesinger's own Darling. Enough, already. 

There are touches of overindulgence. A TV remote-control switch 
lies on the bed where Joe romps with the call girl, and the set switches 
dizzyingly, with heavy humor. The implied fellatio in a grind-movie 
balcony doesn't need the sci-fi missile on the screen to make its point. 
Nor do we need the shots of Joe straining in the sack to please a client. 
And there is some facile ugliness. Ever since his early documentary 
Terminus, Schlesinger has shown a weakness for the British Free 
Cinema fallacy: the belief that close-ups of a lot of ugly faces, particu 
larly old ones, prove that (a) life is ugly and (b) film can tell the 
Truth about it. 

There are a few other flawed moments, like Joe's final brutality with 
a man whom he robs in order to get the ailing Ratso to Florida. The 
brutality is in the novel, but Herlihy plays it in the key of Joe's 
motives, not as a flare of sadism. And the last shot Joe arriving in 
Florida on a bus with the dead Ratso next to him, with the Miami sky- 



174 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

line superimposed seems a clever substitute for the good last shot 
that Schlesinger couldn't think of. 

This cleverness, which has obtruded in previous films of his, is 
still worrisome here; but in Midnight Cowboy, his best film to date, 
there's a great deal besides cleverness, a great deal of good feeling 
and perception and purposeful dexterity. Films with a homosexual 
ambience often rely pompously on adduced spirituality: Boom! and 
Teorema are two recent miserable examples. But here there is no 
pomp because there is no argument that love is always present 
or always purer among the wretched and eccentric. This film, which 
begins with a youth going up to the Big City on a bus and which ends 
with the changed youth leaving on a bus, simply states that, at any 
social level, the exchange of trust and devotion is the only sure 
spiritual oasis; but that, to prejudiced eyes, this seems more incongru 
ous at some levels than at others. By refusing to patronize his char 
acters and by putting them in a realized world, Schlesinger has united 
us with Joe and Ratso, all of us together hustling amidst the neon 
but as we can see not all of us necessarily lost. 



Winning 

{June 14, 1969) 

THE first shot: in the middle of the vast Panavision-Technicolor 
screen, a close-up of two flowers, in soft focus. It looks like Red 
Desert revisited. There are distant buzzes on the sound track. The 
camera moves slowly over a greensward with figures on it, still misty 
and gentle. Then wham! we cut to a roadway, the buzzes turn into 
roars, and cars are whizzing at us. It's a racing picture! 

Those opening ten seconds of Winning are a sketch of the changes 
in American culture in the past decade or so. The film proceeds to fill 
in the sketch, but this opening bit contains the essential ingredients: 
pop art feeding on high art in order to make the product "smart" for 
the new pop audience. 

I'm not worrying about desecration. Who wants to protect art that 
can't take care of itself? (Remember those silly protests some years 



WINNING 175 

ago against the jazzing up of Bach?) I merely note that a mission has 
been accomplished: the new, affluent, university-trained middle class 
has sent its forces into the world of entertainment to wrest pop art 
from vulgarians and to lacquer it with chic. "We are bright these 
days," says the new middle, "and those corny vroom-vroom pictures 
about auto racing will no longer do for people with eight-track stereo 
and museum memberships. Oh, we still want the racing pictures, but 
please ... a la mode." The emissaries have done well. They have 
produced the "adult" Western and the "adult" gangster thriller. 
Winning is an "adult" kids' picture. 

It's not the first, but it's a good example one more fruit of the 
culture of sententious TV drama and absurdly "sophisticated" 
photography in Look and Life and Esquire and the Essays in Time 
that soften up important subjects like an Eskimo wife chewing seal 
skin for her mate's boots. It's no surprise that James Goldstone, the 
young director of Winning, comes out of television, where he edited 
and directed. Not only do TV series (when they are made on film) 
give a man a good technical training, they school him in the essential 
skill of plucking, from the works of committed men, things that are 
adaptable and useful and smart for show biz. And Howard Rodman, 
who wrote Winning , is another TV alumnus: sharp, agile, frank with 
all the power of liberated triteness. 

Not that Winning is a bore. Fast action pictures, if they obey some 
rough rules of reason, aren't boring. But in its aspirations to be 
more than an action picture, it is merely modish and intrinsically 
spurious. Basically it's the same old racetrack story, about the man 
who loves cars and a girl but who spends so much time with the 
former that he runs into trouble with the latter. The up-to-date decor 
includes the fact that he and she sleep together before they are married; 
that her wavering consists of actually going to bed with another driver; 
that the hero's mechanic, instead of being an older man like Walter 
Brennan, is a younger man with how's this for nitty-gritty? a 
hearing aid. And the wife's sixteen-year-old son berates his mother in 
Hamlet style for her sexual behavior. But under the frank frosting, 
the old recipe is there. After the hero wins the Indianapolis 500, his 
mechanic says, "We all made a lot of money yesterday," and he 
replies, "Jeez, there's got to be more to it than that." True, there's 
a small twist in that race: the hero doesn't beat his rival (the driver- 
seducer) in a close finish; the other driver burns out his motor and 



176 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

has to quit. Nevertheless Movieland insists that the seducer go through 
the Kabuki ritual punishment. After all the fuss is over and he has 
won the race, the hero socks the bad guy on the jaw. 

What keeps the picture from tedium, besides its hard action, is Paul 
Newman's performance as the racer-hero. Newman simply seems in 
capable of making a false move or sound. Admittedly, he runs few 
risks in his roles; unlike the only rival he has hi postwar U.S. films, 
Marlon Brando, Newman rarely hazards much in the roles he chooses. 
(As does Brando, who so admirably dared to fail in Reflections in a 
Golden Eye.) But whatever Newman does, he consummates. In that 
ponderous Western Hombre, I really believed he was a white man 
raised by Indians; he sat like a stranger. In Winning the role is a piece 
of cake for him, no strain at all. The only moments approaching 
difficulty are not intense emotional peaks, of which there are few, 
but the moments of silence, of which there are several. For a small, 
fine demonstration of imagination quietly at work, look at the scene 
in which Newman enters the motel room and discovers his wife and 
friend in bed. He stops, then closes the door behind him, and stands 
looking at them. Then he turns, opens the door, and leaves. There is 
a whole spectrum in the pause: of recollection and futility and hurt. 
Utterly true, utterly free of acting cliche. 

Joanne Woodward plays his wife and underplays it with nice timing. 
Her part is lumpily written. She ascribes her infidelity to a weakness 
of character that had not been apparent hi her. Obviously the plot 
needed her infidelity and, ex post facto, they gave her the quirks. 

Goldstone, the director, must be credited with two achievements. 
He and his editors really provide the sensations of speed, much more 
than John Frankenheimer did in Grand Prix, which I walked out of. 
I daresay Howard Hawks got real speed into Red Line 7000 (1965), 
which I missed; that sort of masculine action is Hawks's forte, as I 
remember from his previous racing film The Crowd Roars (1932). 
But Goldstone, like Hertz, really put me in the driver's seat. 

And out of his big bag of borrowed visual devices, out of Truffaut 
and Lelouch and others, Goldstone pulls one real accomplishment. 
Although much of the time these devices are merely impasted 
modernity, he does use them validly to build Newman's character. 
The hero needs a certain stillness, a potential for somewhat deeper 
thought than his fellows, if the film is going to hang together at all. 
In older days the producers might have given, say, John Garfield a few 



LAST SUMMER 177 

tinselly poetic utterances to prove that lie had a soul. Goldstone uses 
optical materials montage and dreamy reminiscence to suggest 
thoughtfulness, and it works. 

But from the picture's title, with its echo of Henry Green, on 
through the Antonioni and other derivations and the nervously pared 
dialogue, Winning is a good example of the new hybrid pop art 
superficially upgraded. Nine years ago Dwight Macdonald wrote a 
celebrated essay in which he marked out three cultural areas High 
Culture, Mass Culture (not folk art), and something he called Mid- 
cult. The latter brought High Culture down to bite-size available form. 
I think the areas are changing; the new culture beavers are bringing 
Mass Culture up to the middle. As the figurative social masses are 
being absorbed into the middle class, so Masscult is being absorbed 
into Midcult, and possibly there will soon be no Masscult left, in 
Macdonald's terms. I'm of course not talking about such phenomena 
as the Beatles and post-Beatles rock, which are making their own in 
dividual bona fides very clear. I mean such traditional Masscult 
forms as, for instance, the auto racing picture. These are the forms 
that are being garlanded and "classed up" with the trappings of art. 
For the best artists, who I daresay are amused by the borrowings, 
there is presumably only one motto: Onward and Inward. 



Last Summer 

(July 12 , 1969) 

Last Summer is about four adolescents at a beach resort. They are 
almost the only people in the picture, and the performances of the 
four are the best elements in it. Richard Thomas and Bruce Davison 
are convincing, particularly the former, but the two girls are ex 
traordinary. Barbara Hershey has something of Jane Fonda about 
her: the same sexy imperiousness, an attractive yet unfruity voice, 
quick thrusts of hot true feeling, and sharp timing. Catherine Burns 
is supposed to be the least attractive of the quartet and, by Playboy 
standards, perhaps she is; but she is lovely in her dignity, in her proud 
revelations of secret feelings and the childlike humor bursting through 



178 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

her composure. If I were a sultan, I would like to buy Miss Hershey. 
If I had a daughter, I would like her to be Miss Burns. Frank Perry, 
who directed, must be credited with good casting and with evoking 
these performances. 

From there on, the compliments get skimpier. The script by the 
director's wife, Eleanor Perry, adapted from Evan Hunter's novel, 
is built on a false assumption and on laborious parables. Its false 
assumption, which it shares with dozens of novels and stories and 
films, is that, by the very act of choosing adolescence as a subject, it 
displays special sensitivity, and it invites us to flutter right up there 
with it onto its assumed poetic plateau. Adolescence has indeed been 
the subject of some genuinely sensitive films, such as Olmi's The 
Sound of Trumpets, Menzel's Closely Watched Trains, Frankenheim- 
er's All Fall Down (the family parts), and TroelTs Here's Your Life. 
Each of these pictures begins by treating its adolescents as people, 
as characters, and then achieves sensitivity as an inevitability of the 
characters' truth. Last Summer begins by treating its characters as 
adolescents and therefore sensitive. From the start it has an air of 
self-conscious idyllic abstraction, which is heightened by the pic 
turesque isolation of sand and sea and sky. All these produced in 
me an immediate foreboding that the four young people were going 
to act out a poignant allegory. 

They did. The story is built chiefly of three analogous episodes. 
The first is about a hurt seagull, whose plight unites Miss Hershey 
and the two boys. The poor bkd almost wears a sign around its neck 
saying "Device." The girl's care for the bird is used to underscore her 
lonely estrangement from her gallivanting mother and the adult 
world, and it is not exactly a surprise to us when, after nursing the 
bird, the girl kills it, shocking and further attracting the two boys. 

The second episode is about a Puerto Rican man who comes out 
from New York because of a prank Miss Hershey plays through a 
computer dating service. Long before he appears, we know he is going 
to be sweet and that the youngsters, although they will like Mm, are 
going to hurt him, one way or another. He is a figurative gull, as 
against the literal one. 

The third, overarching episode is about Miss Burns. She is the 
odd girl out. The trio taunt her, befriend her, like her, tease her, 
and finally injure her grievously, just as with the bird and the Puerto 
Rican. 



THE WILD BUNCH 179 

Despite this simplistic structure, the moral of the tale is muddied. 
Does this story tell us what happens to the children of a current gen 
eration of sybaritic parents? (Adults are never mentioned except in 
terms of ridicule or scorn, as mendacious or corrupt.) Or is it about 
the herd instinct and how the security of group violence overcomes 
finer instincts? If the former, the case is rigged. If the latter, it's as 
profound as those Westerns of some years ago in which a stranger 
rode into a town terrorized by a brute and acted out a little allegory 
about democracy standing up to fascism. 

Apart from Frank Perry's work with the actors, his direction is 
commonplace at its best, and it's not always at its best. When Miss 
Hershey and the boys dance, we get a shot of them from the ground 
up that would have bored Busby Berkeley. When the boys lie on the 
ground in front of her, their heads fall into a neat pattern. When they 
smoke pot, we get Indian music on the sound track. When Miss Burns 
is assaulted by the other three in a woods, we get bird song on the 
sound track. This irony would be blatant enough, but the bird song 
is repeated so regularly and mechanically that it sounds as if a pho 
nograph needle had got stuck. The last shot is from a helicopter zoom 
ing up and away from one of the boys on the beach. Troell used 
a vaguely similar shot at the end of Here's Your Life because it 
showed us the countryside out of which the protagonist had come 
and which he was now leaving; it was a last statement of source. With 
Perry, it is an empty aeronautical cliche. 



The Wttd Bunch 

(July 19, 1969} 

THE Western, until quite recently, was especially valuable as a mythic 
preserve: a form ha which Good and Evil could be easily identified 
and hi which Good could triumph. Lately it is becoming an arena for 
exultation in gore with perhaps a fade-out nod to virtue a Theater 
of Cruelty on the cheap. The Italian-made Westerns have done it 
in an almost childish way: their gore is so patently contrived that 
the shock is merely annoying, like a boy's thrusting a dead mouse in 



180 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

your face and cackling at your disgust. The well-made American 
Western is more effective, more lopsidedly truthful. 

The Bad Man as protagonist is an old idea in Westerns, but he al 
ways used to be Wallace Beery in one form or another, a lovable 
bandit who reformed or gave his life gladly at the end in expiation. 
Now we get killers as heroes, and everything we learn about them 
is intended to make them acceptable as killers, not to explain how 
they went astray and might have been good ranchers or bank tellers 
if fate had been kinder. 

In the hands of Sam Peckinpah, the matter becomes more com 
plex because he is such a gifted director that I don't see how one can 
avoid using the word "beautiful" about his work. This is not merely 
a matter of big vistas and stirring gallops and silhouettes against the 
sky, although Peckinpah understands all about them. It is a matter 
of the kinetic beauty in the very violence that his film lives and revels 
in. Peckinpah has been quoted as saying that he included so many hor 
rors in order to make us sick of violence. Well, people will say al 
most anything in interviews, and it is the tale that must be trusted, 
not the teller. He is not an oblique puritan, he is a talented maniac 
who loves his bloody work. And the work is significant. 

I missed Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (1961), which was 
reliably praised, and have been trying to catch up with it. I saw Major 
Dundee (1965), about which Peckinpah is said to be unhappy be 
cause of interference but which was distinguished by some gritty 
fighting, some smacking physical detail, and Charlton Heston's most 
credible performance. The Wild Bunch, Peckinpah's latest, runs two 
hours and forty-five minutes, was written by Peckinpah and 
Walon Green, and was photographed in Technicolor and Pana- 
vision by Lucien Ballard, who was a protege of von Sternberg and 
whose distinguished career includes some previous Westerns. This 
new film is the best Western I can remember since Brando's One-Eyed 
Jacks (1960). 

The time is around 1913, the place is both sides of the Texas- 
Mexico border. The contrast between the U.S. and Mexican cultures 
is important to Peckinpah (as it was to Brando). It's a handy way 
to juxtapose Europe and America, to show the pretenses and prac 
tices of both, which, under differing delusions and nouns, end up 
fairly concentrically. The "bunch" of the title is a robber gang led 
by William Holden; the plot includes two railroad robberies, flight into 



THE WILD BUNCH 181 

Mexico, conflicts with a crooked Mexican general and with Villa's 
men. From John Ford, Peckinpah has acquired, along with other 
things, a passion for accurate and revealing Americana, used dra 
matically. When the behavior gets cinematic, the look of the scene 
is still so genuine that we find patience. The clothes seem to smell of 
the people who wear them, the tin coffee cups look battered. Peckin 
pah adds an exotic, somewhat Ophulsian flavor in his decor: the 
Mexican general has a German military adviser and a bright red 
automobile. The dialogue is plentifully profane, the frisking with 
whores is gamy, and both these elements have a retroactive effect: 
they seem to fill hi what has been missing from the laundered West 
erns of the past. 

Yet there are sentimentalities. When the gang rides out of a Mexi 
can village, which is the home of one of their number, the villagers 
line the streets singing farewell; and I missed Ward Bond and J. Far- 
rell MacDonald blinking back the tears. Children are used in coarse 
facsimile of Richard Hughes as innocent lovers of evil. Sticky sym 
bols occur: a scorpion at the beginning, buzzards at the end. The 
film is too long; it tries for too much, in incident and theme. (The 
pronouncements about future Mexican democracy are so blatantly 
impasted that they don't even taint the film.) Holden is unconvinc 
ing as a middle-aged outlaw. The role could have used Henry Fonda 
or Heston. Holden looks as if he were at a dude ranch, and he can't 
even walk convincingly. When he and his lieutenant, Ernest Borgnine, 
stride away from the camera, Borgnine is a man off the saddle, bow- 
legging along, but Holden is a member of the Screen Actors Guild. 
Robert Ryan is well cast as an ex-outlaw who leads the bounty 
hunters who are after the gang, but his usual bile and threat seem 
a bit thin; he isn't quite brooding enough. 

All the rest are good, including Borgnine, Ben Johnson, whom 
John Ford tried to make a star in Wagonmaster, and Edmond O'Brien 
as a grizzled, chaw-stained old thief. This part would once have been 
done by Edgar Buchanan, except that here it is written and played 
as the tail end of a particular life, not as a stock whiskery figure of 
tarnation fun. 

But the faults recede because the violence is the film. Those who 
have complained that there's too much of it might as well complain 
that there's too much punching hi a prizefight: to reduce it would be 
to make it something else. The violence is in the attitudes as well as 



182 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

the actions. For example, the opening sequence is an ambush by the 
bounty hunters of the outlaws in the middle of a town, and it doesn't 
matter a damn to the law or to the outlaws that they are firing through 
dozens of bystanders. There is a climactic scene in a huge Mexican 
courtyard which contains so much shooting and stabbing of soldiers, 
outlaws, girls, and old men with a wild machine gun clattering away 
that it becomes a kind of lethal bacchanalia. It may horrify, but 
it isn't ludicrous, and this is to Peckinpah's credit. 

The details are lurid. When men are shot in the back, blood spurts 
out just as it does from disemboweled swordsmen in Kurosawa. 
A throat is cut before your eyes. And often, when men fall, Peckin- 
pah catches the fall in slow motion. The obvious point of comparison 
is the end of Bonnie and Clyde (there are also other comparisons 
with that picture), but Penn used slow motion to try to poeticize the 
deaths of two particular people. With Peckinpah, it is almost always 
extras who fall in slow motion depersonalized death. His interest 
is in the ballet, not the bullet, and this insistent esthetics is perhaps 
the cruelest of all the film's cruelties. The slow-motion snatches are 
irritating in two ways: first, because they draw our attention to the 
film as such; second, because Peckinpah is right right to remind 
us that more than one prism of vision is possible at every moment 
of life and that this prism at this moment magnifies the enjoyment of 
killing. 

The context of the film is the supposed passing of an era and the 
aging of the outlaws. There are conversations between Holden and 
Borgnine around the campfire in which they talk about the onset 
of autumn in their careers, and at the end the theme is well utilized. 
After a night of carousing with a couple of girls, Holden and Borg 
nine wake up quietly and quietly go off to pay a debt of honor simply 
because they're too old to care about saving their skins. It's a well- 
written and well-directed sequence. 

But all that concern with transition and aging is essentially arti 
ficial. Peckinpah's real interest is in Western space, men moving in 
it, men fighting in it. The rest is just the dues he pays, quite skill 
fully, to form. The overriding effect is of a mania, the eccentric pas 
sion of a man who has found a medium that perfectly accommodates 
his passion. He likes killing, and he does it very well. His art makes 
it so generic, so tribal, that we can't even go through the usual self- 



TRUE GRIT 183 

flagellation, American style, about our American violence. That 
would be too easy, Peckinpah seems to say. 

The picture ends in laughter. Ryan's band of bounty hunters are 
knocked off, so are O'Brien's pals; the two survivors, who were 
lately enemies, join forces, laughing, using the Mexican peasants' 
cause as their excuse but knowing it for an excuse. The laughter so 
closely echoes that of Walter Huston at the end of The Treasure of 
the Sierra Madre that it's almost a quotation, but the ridicule here 
is not of the vanity of greed but of all absolutes. If the laughter is 
a bit stagily cynical, that very staginess seems part of the statement. 

POSTSCRIPT. Subsequently I saw Ride the High Country and was glad 
of it. The music is studio syrup and the photography by Lucien 
Ballard is routine, but it is a nice little conventional unconventional 
Western, and it contains some elements to which Peckinpah has since 
returned and which he has developed further. There are two leading 
characters, who are old friends and aging men. The opening sequence 
is a bit of street Americana into which one of these men rides. There 
is an attempt though in strict time, not slow motion to protract a 
moment of death. And John Ford's influence is seen not only in the 
veristic detail but in the use of an eccentric, somewhat overeccentric 
family of brothers, like the outlaws in Wagonmaster. But what is 
most enjoyable is less any felicity of Peckinpah's direction than the 
reasonably fresh script by N. B. Stone, Jr. 



True Grit 

(July 26, 1969) 

THE summer rash of big Westerns continues, but at least with some 
variety. Last week it was The Wild Bunch, a powerful picture that 
harrows the Western form almost to Artaudian depths. This week we 
are home on the familiar range, yet even here there's an interesting 
difference. 

True Grit is a vehicle for an old star. Readers of the novel may 
remember it as a book about a girl, but it's a picture about John 



184 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Wayne. What's more, although Wayne may make another twenty pic 
tures, this one has an air of valedictory because it marks a change in 
his persona and relies on his past to certify it, and because it actually 
ends with a scene of farewell. He plays an aging, paunchy, one-eyed, 
hard-drinking, profane federal marshal, and inevitably the viewer 
sees him against the Wayne career of almost forty years in which, 
give or take a minor characteristic here and there and changes of 
costume, the star has altered only by very slowly growing older. 
Audiences have shared that long career with him, and the mutual 
experience (his and ours) works for him in True Grit much like bank 
interest accrual. Our familiarity with him in one vein is what makes 
this different vein so effective. The difference here is not in Wayne 
but in audience acceptances. Nowadays a star is allowed to swear 
and to get so drunk that he falls off his horse. (Watch closely and 
you'll see that it's a stunt man who takes the fall.) It's not a perform 
ance as was Lee Marvin's drunken old gunny in Cat Ballou; Marvin, 
at the time, had little going for him but his abilities. Wayne has us 
going for him after all this time; and we not only relish his continental 
body and sprawl as usual, we can relish his age (liberation from the 
conventions of sex appeal) and his new freedom to break taboos. 

Charles Portis* novel was a clever bit of ersatz Americana. Al 
though it was short, it was overlong by about a third; still it had a 
lively sentimental plot: in Arkansas, about 1880, a fourteen-year-old 
girl hires a federal marshal to track her father's killer into Indian 
Territory, and she insists on accompanying him- The old-man-and- 
the-kid bit always works, especially when the old man starts out gruff 
and the kid wins him over; here the kid is a girl and wins the old 
man over by physical bravery (his profession), so the project is 
doubly insured. 

The film could hardly have been made with less distinction. This 
was presumably deliberate. Hal Wallis, the producer, is a man with 
long experience in turning out moneymakers. He bought a bull's-eye 
story, got the all-important Wayne, then made sure to engage an 
old workhorse director who hasn't had a new idea since the beginning 
of his career Henry Hathaway. Then they got Lucien Ballard, a 
gifted cinematographer who can deliver what is wanted. For Peckin- 
pah, in The Wild Bunch, he made the very earth look hostile and 
sardonic. For Hathaway and Wallis, Ballard has produced a series 
of postcards with unvaried blue mountains on the horizon. Costumes 



EASY RIDER 185 

were made not for character but to support audience preconception of 
character; note the colors in the heroine's clothes. They all aimed at 
a received fictitious past, which is part of America's truth, just as 
The Wild Bunch was aimed at a veristic past, which is also part of 
that truth. 

But Wallis and Hathaway have bumbled three matters, to keep the 
film from being as good a homespun contraption as the book. They 
allowed Elmer Bernstein to pour a thick Straussian gravy over the 
picture, a score quite foreign to its temper. Second, the chief appeal 
of Portis' novel was in its prose, supposedly the heroine's own vernac 
ular. The actions themselves have much less flavor than her descrip 
tions of them; and the dialogue, which was amusingly stilted in the 
girl's narrative, now sounds merely stilted much of the time. Third 
and biggest bumble, the casting of the heroine, the dullest discovery 
since the girl in The Diary of Anne Frank. Kim Darby's talent need 
not be discussed; I note only that she doesn't even have the requisite 
country accent. 

A social student can find a few nubs to chew on hi this picture. 
Whenever the heroine has to identify herself or prove her bona fides, 
she does it by stating that her family owns property. Wayne reads us 
a little lesson in Law and Order; he commands a rat, in mock legalis 
tic terms, to stop eating someone else's food, and when the rat dis 
regards the "writ," Wayne shoots him dead. Only then does Wayne's 
tolerant cat take any interest hi the matter. (The cat, I guess, is sup 
posed to be a liberal.) And when the heroine wants justice, she can't 
rely on government process; she pays a marshal to help her. All these 
matters sound quite authentic in context; otherwise they would not 
be nearly so revealing. They are part of a film made with cinematic 
conservatism to exalt deeper conservatisms through nostalgia. 



Easy Rider 

(August 2, 1969) 

IN 1940 Henry Fonda made The Grapes of Wrath, in which, as a 
dispossessed young man, he travels westward through the South 
west. In 1969 Peter Fonda made Easy Rider, in which, as a dispos- 



186 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

sessed young man, he travels eastward through the Southwest. Fonda 
pere, shut out by a greedy and stupid society, finally decides to fight 
to change that society. Fonda fits decides at the beginning, before the 
beginning: he has opted out of society. 

Easy Rider is an attempt by some young men at a poetic state 
ment about a world which they feel is inimical to poetry. The declara 
tions of their independence are nomadism, drugs, sex. Fonda and a 
pal (Dennis Hopper) buy some heroin in Mexico, take it across the 
border on their motorcycles, sell it hi California, then start on their 
cycles for New Orleans and the Mardi Gras, loaded with money and 
nothing else. En route they encounter a rancher, a hippie commune, 
some small-town prejudice against long hair, and an alcoholic thirtyish 
lawyer who travels part of the way with them. In New Orleans they 
get two girls in an expensive brothel and spend Mardi Gras with them, 
including an acid trip in a cemetery. Then the youths meet their fate 
on the road east to Florida. 

All this is very well photographed in color with a particular eye 
for the arch of the sky by Laszlo Kovacs. But the most impressive 
talent in this film a potentially important one is Dennis Hopper. 
First, he plays Billy to Fonda's Captain America. That's the nick 
name he uses; Fonda has a flag on the back of his jacket. Clad in old 
buckskins, Hopper lives in a genial, slightly bewildered "high," pres 
ent but safe. Second, he is coauthor of the script with Fonda and 
Terry Southern. Third, he directed. (It's an incidental pleasure of 
the picture to imagine Hopper switching back and forth between his 
floating-hippie performance and the rigors of direction.) Easy Rider 
is his first directing job, and it's generally well done, well seen. 
Hopper, who has exhibited paintings and sculpture and photographs, 
has been busy for some years as a screen actor; for instance, he's the 
outlaw who gets stabbed by his friend in True Grit. To have acted, 
creditably, a principal role in the first film that he directed more than 
creditably is an extraordinary achievement. Cheers and hopes for 
Mr. Hopper. 

The best performance funny, overwhelmingly winning, and 
quite moving is by Jack Nicholson as a cynical, hard-drinking 
young lawyer, drowning in a tiny town, who grabs the back of Fonda's 
motorcycle going past as if it were a raft that could save his life. 
There is a crazy sweetness in Nicholson that is pathetic without ever 
asking for pathos. 



EASY RIDER 187 

Fonda is quiet and tries to work by doing very little, but this kind 
of stoic film, acting a la Steve McQueen requires a stronger per 
sonality, more menace or protective assurance or sex, than Fonda 
shows at present. He is presented as a Dharma Bum, a hippie-saint; 
but the radiations are just not potent enough. 

The story is built on some significant assumptions. The first thing 
we see is the two young men buying and selling heroin, and we are 
expected to sympathize with them at once. The pot smoking that 
they do is a matter of course. (The first of the many songs in the 
score begins "I smoke a lot of grass.") The life style of the two 
friends, like that of the people in the commune they visit, is taken as 
understood by us; there are virtually no flashbacks to show us how 
they got there. 

Such analysis as there is in the script gives it its tackiest moments. 
After the cyclists and the lawyer have fled a small-town luncheonette 
where rednecks threatened them, the lawyer says, "You know, this 
used to be a helluva good country. I can't understand whaf s going on 
in it." Well, I can't understand him. Does he mean that small towns 
east, west, north, or south used to be free of xenophobia and other 
prejudices? What U.S.A. was that? And when he goes on to explain 
why money slaves always hate those who are free, the lines take us 
back to the style of Norman Corwin. 

The hippie life is the most credible I have seen in a fiction film. 
And visually, imaginatively, the picture captures a sense of journey, 
of the hunger for frontier in American space, the feeling that there 
ought to be a possible large-spirited life in a large land, that the 
very ability to move through this country is a refutation of the crab 
bed lives on every side. But, like so many films whose aim is to tell 
some truth, it gets a bit cross-eyed as it gets closer to its goal. There 
is some arrant triteness and falseness. The aide-de-camp of the drug 
buyer, with his dark glasses and death's head cane, is a comic book 
figure. When the cyclists fix a flat in a rancher's barn, we look past 
them to the rancher shoeing a horse. (Get it?) The meal with the 
rancher and his family under the trees is third-rate Steinbeck. The 
scene where the two youths go swimming with two hippie girls is 
all cliche; swimming particularly in the nude is by now a very 
weary objective correlative for purity of heart. In the French Quarter 
brothel there is a glimpse of a whore on crutches, ready for business, 
that looks like Terry Southern's homage to Max Ophuls. The acid 



188 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

trip in the cemetery is a lot of tedious optical effects without effect. 
After the pair leave New Orleans, safe with their loot, Hopper gloats 
that they have "made it," but Fonda shakes his head sadly and says, 
"We blew it." I don't know what in the world he meant. Why, by 
any values that they show in the film, had they blown it? It seems a 
note of pseudo sagacity and rue. 

There is some irrelevant chichi in the editing. Toward the end of 
a sequence, Hopper and his editor, Donn Cambern, give us a couple 
of splinters of the next sequence before the present one actually ends 
brief flashes forward. These flashes are superfluous in narrative 
terms, and in psychological and esthetic terms they are far from 
the level of intent for which Resnais used the device in La Guerre 
Est Finie. Especially egregious is a quick flash in the New Orleans 
section of the fate that lies ahead of the boys; when we see it, it's 
meaningless, and when we find out what it means, the augury is 
retrospectively meaningless. 

As for that ending, which I had better not reveal, it is a coup de 
theatre that tries to consummate the sanctification of the two youths, 
but after the shock is over, it is seen as only a coup de theatre. Which 
is why I won't describe it. But when a critic can't describe an ac 
tion for fear of spoiling it for a prospective viewer, that is a pretty 
fair index of the action's superficiality. 

After all these reservations, important as I think them, Easy Rider 
is still an extraordinary first film, particularly from a director who 
participated in it three ways. It tries to explore its subject, to throw 
its characters into it and let them take their chances, not merely (in 
TV style) to substitute new problems for older problems in what is 
essentially the same script. It tries to create an organism of free flight, 
and it gets its dynamics from all those interesting assumptions. In 
cold factual terms, Fonda and Hopper are pretty low types experi 
enced drug peddlers, criminal vagabonds; but we are given to see two 
rebels, whose motives are presumably so understandable that they 
don't even have to be stated, living their own version of two great 
American romances: the Natural Life (Huck and Tom on motor 
cycles) and the Frontier. For reasons that have something to do with 
Jung, a good deal to do with our society's growing unease and at 
least as much to do with film art, Easy Rider often gets what it wants 
from us. 



PUTNEY SWOPE 189 

Putney Swope 

(August 30, 1969) 

Putney Swope is the most overrated film of the year and overrated 
for the most puerile of reasons: it does things that have never been 
done before in films, anyway in aboveground ones. It's a black 
comedy (the pun is unavoidable) about blacks taking over a Madi 
son Avenue agency, through a fluke vote something like the election 
of Corvo's Hadrian VII. Its chief comic method is reversal: blacks 
turning down white applicants, a wealthy black couple with a lazy 
blond maid, TV commercials that contain profanity or frank sexual 
terms, and so on. 

Bob Downey, who wrote and directed it, has some wit as a writer. 
He showed this in Chafed Elbows, which reads funny. What he lacks 
is film-making ability above low-amateur status, some sense of comic 
acting and timing, and a ghost of a clue as to any purpose for his 
wit. Putney Swope is just another impudent lampoon of advertising 
with the switch that it is on film and that the cast has been racially 
switched. (And it is therefore vaguely patronizing and smug: "Say, 
here's a new angje on advertising satire. . . .") If I had any faith 
in Downey's artistic brain, I might say that he was slyly showing us 
something about the real brotherhood of man, but I think that he 
just had this initial funny idea, that he played along with it until he 
ran out of gags and gas, then hurriedly cooked up an ending. 

Arnold Johnson, who is Swope, plods through with no hint of 
ability and with a dubbed gravelly voice. There are some beautiful 
chicks in the picture but not much other talent except a brief bit 
from Allen Garfield, who was the porno salesman in Greetings. 

Greetings, which is comparable, was much better than Putney 
Swope. First, it had point and purpose. Second, it had some good per 
formers. Third, although it was pretty untidy, it had more sheer film 
imagination. Fourth, it was never smug. There is an air throughout 
Downey's picture of asking for credit simply because it was made. 

A further odd point. It's a commonplace by now that the best- 
produced items on TV are the commercials; more money is spent 
on them, per minute of running time, than on program material. 



190 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

(Stanley Kubrick has said that few theatrical Sims could afford 
budgets proportionate to what some commercials spend $100,000 
a minute.) Well, in this film lampoon of advertising, by far the best- 
produced moments are the commercials those supposedly made by 
Swope's agency. Besides being the only sections in color, they are 
the only sections photographed and edited skillfully and performed 
with some idea of pace. Again I might suspect Downey of making a 
point of parallelism, if I thought he had sufficient control. But even 
then it would be quixotic to do an eighty-four-minute film and make 
seventy minutes of it flabby just for the sake of a caustic parallel. 



Staircase 

(September 13, 1969) 

I had the good luck to see Paul Scofield and Patrick Magee in the 
London production of Staircase, so Charles Dyer's two-character play 
has for me the aspect of a pas de deux a theatrical excuse to display 
some fine acting. As a dramatic work, this story of two middle-aged 
London barbers is a slight exercise in pathos, briskly enough written, 
which depends for its little life on the fact that the two men are homo 
sexuals. To put it another way, in a play on a less titillating subject, 
the author's skimpy gifts would be more apparent. 

Now Dyer has made a screenplay of Staircase and, as screenwrit 
ers will, he has "opened it up." The opening only reveals the skim- 
piness. As a play, it had some prettiness of form: two characters, one 
place, almost continuous time; the economies were not only Aristote 
lian, they helped to underscore the isolation of the pair. But now 
we go upstairs to see Harry's bedridden mum, we go out to parks 
and graveyards and an old folks* home, a homo pickup is brought in. 
The shape is smashed. The staircase of the play, under which the two 
barbers are confined and on which they hear the lecherous feet of their 
boarder and her lovers, has no meaning. A song called "Staircase," 
sung by two transvestite performers, is inserted before the credits, to 
try to give the title meaning. It fails. Worse, the splaying of the script 
has meant the inclusion of facile ugliness garbage cans, pee stains 



STAIRCASE 191 

in mum's bed, the gutting of a chicken all in the cheapest Tony 
Richardson tradition. 

A good deal of this is presumably the fault of Stanley Donen, the 
producer-director. Donen has been an outstanding director of come 
dies musicals like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Funny Face 
and one of my favorite bits of nonmusical fluff, The Grass Is Greener. 
In such works he had ease and confident invention. But, venturing into 
slice-of-life seriousness, he shows a failure both of invention and of 
taste. Staircase is a flabby film that, as it goes along, seems to realize 
its flabbiness and grabs frantically at bits of sordidness to prove that 
it really is serious. No longer a graceful duet, it becomes a waddling 
tale, spattered with ugliness, that falls into the biggest sentimental 
trap for homosexual material: it pleads for pity. 

But it would be a shame if the general failure obscured the one 
validity in the film Richard Burton's performance as the balding 
Harry. Burton does not always give good performances, but it is 
never for lack of gifts. Sometimes he chooses hopeless material 
(Boom!), sometimes he is blatantly lazy (Dr. Faustus, The Taming 
of the Shrew). In Staircase he has really concentrated his powers; 
Harry has captured and galvanized him, made him provide more 
than stunts or surfaces. As the pudgy fearful old poof, Burton could 
not rely much on his star persona, and he has not used the vulgar 
alternative of being the glamorous Burton at a masquerade. He has 
been concerned only with the truth of Harry, the vulnerability and 
humility and forlorn gumption, and with the expression of it as Harry. 
When he tends his disgusting old mother (beautiful Cathleen Nes- 
bitt as was), it is Harry's desperate compassion that governs, not 
Burton showing us that stars have hearts. When he appears in his 
atrocious wig, it is the pitiful man himself, fearful of his pal's com 
ments, not a camp act by the clever Mr. B. There is no crack or 
crevice in the entire performance. It's not often that a sex star builds 
a role entirely out of what he can perceive and do, rather than out 
of what he is or is known as. Harry is an extraordinary work of 
character actor's art. 

Contrast it with Rex Harrison's performance of the dapper Charlie. 
In his own generation (the one before Burton's) Harrison had the 
talent and opportunity to become one of its few great actors. If he 
lacked the lovely Welsh melancholy that Burton can summon, still 
he had a wider range his own tragic notes, and high comedy that 



192 FIGURES OF LIGHT 



was superlative. But he lacked one essential. Laurence Olivier has 
said of himself that he is the greatest actor of his generation, not 
because he is the most talented he doesn't think he is but because 
he is the bravest. Bravery, of the sort that Olivier means, is precisely 
what Harrison has not shown in his career. And since My Fair Lady 
which was mostly a repetition on camera of a previous fine per 
formance his film acting has shown a continual narrowing, a con 
striction of spirit, plus an implied reliance on a stature that he hasn't 
really achieved. 

Lately Harrison's acting seems to be floating loose from the cen 
ters that once gave it subtle truths. (Remember the exquisite inflec 
tions in Major Barbara and The Notorious Gentleman.) This was 
bad enough when he was doing things within his usual, though not un 
varied, line, like The Honey Pot. In the eccentric Charlie, a role that 
could live only through the sort of creative imagination that Burton 
shows, Harrison seems quite unable to confront the man with honesty 
or sympathy. There is no emotional or imaginative connection, there 
are only surface gestures. This stultifies the moments of anguish 
(watch Harrison's eyes, which remain dead), but, more shocking, the 
moments of venom, which should have been easy for him, are mere 
patter. Most shocking, the speech, intended to be glib for the glib 
Charlie, is noticeably labored in an actor who used to carve words 
with swift scalpel strokes. 

His performance makes a former admirer very sad. Will he ever 
recover his powers? Is there time? 



Medium Cool 

(September 20, 1969) 

HASKELL Wexler, one of our best cinematographers (In the Heat oj 
the Night and numerous others), has now directed his first feature. 
He has also written the script and, of course, has done the photog 
raphy. It's about a TV-news cameraman who comes to understand 
the radiation effects of the purring bomb in his hands. The title, 
Medium Cool, is evidently a play on McLuhan's phrase "the cool 
medium." The subject could not be more timely; the visual elements 



MEDIUM COOL 193 

in the film are, naturally, fine; some sequences are exceptionally 
good; but, ironically, the film itself is trapped in its hero's own pitfall. 

The cameraman, played by Robert Forster, works for a station 
in Chicago, which is apt because the 1968 Democratic Convention 
can decorate the climax and also because Forster's role is the '68 
equivalent of a Front Page character Hildy Johnson with an Arri- 
fiex, tough but stoically idealistic. His idealism is in his ruthless 
professionalism. Then he meets the young widow of a West Virginia 
miner (killed in Vietnam), who has come to Chicago with her young 
son. Through his experiences with them, Forster is meant to learn 
that idealism extends past the ego. And he is also meant to learn 
that the medium which provides the pleasure in his life is also a me 
dium in which his and other lives are held; and by which, to some 
degree, they are all fashioned. 

The physical feeling of the picture is that it is being pressed close 
against us. Some of the dialogue has the whip of flexible steel; some of 
the sequences are small diamonds. There is a scene in which Forster 
and his girl of the moment, Marianna Hill, whirl around his room 
naked while she curses him., laughing, a scene that has more sex 
before they get into bed than most copulation scenes have. There is 
a minute in the kitchen of that Los Angeles hotel as the cooks work, 
listening to Bobby Kennedy over a P.A. from the ballroom next door, 
which ends just as his entourage bursts in through the swinging doors 
a touch that suggests early Orson Welles. As Forster walks across 
the floor of the still-empty Chicago convention hall, they test the re 
cording of "The Star Spangled Banner," rich and thrilling; they stop 
and start it again push-button patriotism. Wexler uses the editing 
device that Richard Lester used so brilliantly in Petulia cutting to 
parallel yet disparate action or to unexplained flashbacks, eventually 
weaving the pieces together. Wexler doesn't have Lester's power to 
convey secret universes that finally meld; still some moments are 
lovely. And the picture ends with a sardonic reminder for those 
who remember it of the way the Paramount newsreel used to end. 

And there are some good performances. Forster, who looks like a 
young, more fine-grained Jack Palance, has force~in-restraint. Harold 
Blankenship, who reportedly is an actual Appalachian boy, plays the 
miner's son with a wealth of proud boyish secrets. Verna Bloom, his 
mother, has reticent beauty, both in looks and effect. 

But, right from the start, Medium Cool is infected with the false- 



194 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

ness that seems endemic among the new crop of American film truth 
tellers. The very first sequence: Forster and his soundman shoot a 
car accident and record the groans of the injured woman on a 
lonely road. When they get back to their company car, Forster recol 
lects himself and says (the first line of the film) : "Better call an 
ambulance." Phony. It's hard enough to believe that the most hard 
ened newsman would not have called an ambulance before doing his 
job; but it's impossible to believe that he would have forgotten to call 
one after he finished particularly the man this one is later shown 
to be. The scene is an artificially imposed "meaningful" device, and 
is followed by others. When the boy, who keeps pigeons on his roof, 
reads from a book about the fidelity of male and female pigeons, the 
camera closes heavily on the face of Ms lonely mother. When Forster 
and his girl go to a roller derby, the excited crowd yells, "Go! Go! 
Go!" and the scene dissolves cheaply to Forster and the girl in bed 
while the sound track keeps yelling "Go!" There is the usual hall 
mark of the worried realist facile ugliness: a dwarf attendant at 
the derby, a badly crippled orderly at a hospital. Wexler wants to 
include a scene with black militants, so he has Forster invade a black 
militant meeting, on the trail of an irrelevant human interest story, 
displaying a professional crassness that would have got him fired or 
killed long before we meet him. Forster just happens to have been an 
amateur boxing champion, which helps him to win over his girl's 
young son. (In Winning, Paul Newman had his auto racing to im 
press Joanne Woodward's son. How does a nonathlete manage in 
situations like this?) And the last sequence of the picture is a mirror 
image of the first, so pat and mechanical that it degrades whatever 
authenticity the picture has been able to establish. Further, that 
ending is predicted with a bulletin on Forster's car radio, just as the 
ending of Easy Rider was predicted with a film flash. In the latter 
case, it could possibly be called the character's prescience, but what 
is Wexler's radio flash? A voice from the spirit world? No, nothing 
that credible. It is just Wexler refusing to miss a chance for an arty 
effect.* 

Forster's internal drama, which I outlined above, is in fact all in 
my outline, not in the film. It's assumed that he has gone through 

* Others have contended that this incident is Wexler's "homage" to Godard 
and the ending of Contempt. If so, all the worse. Why fracture the credibility 
of one film to salute another? 



MEDIUM COOL 195 

what Swedenborg would have called a "vastation," and it's not even 
assumed by Wexler we have to assume it for him, if the picture is 
going to hold together at all and make any kind of progress, if the 
ending is to have even sophomoric bitterness. After Forster is fired 
by the station (he's told that he broke company rules but the impli 
cation is that Big Brother is watching him), all that happens is that 
he sees a good deal of the widow and the boy, is hired to film the con 
vention, helps the widow to look for her boy, who has disappeared, 
then runs into the ending. There is some small indication of enlarged 
humanity in him through his experience with the Appalachians, but 
it is certainly not crystallized in relation to the theme: the wanton 
use of the powers of film, especially on television. That theme is 
simply dropped. 

Wexler's inclusion of the convention riots is undigested. What have 
the riots to do with his theme as shown here? What have they to 
do with the widow story? The whole episode looks fortuitous, as if 
the film was being made in Chicago when the riots occurred and as if 
Wexler just decided to capitalize on them. Capitalization of that 
sort is a perfectly valid film-making process when the occurrence is 
really absorbed, but since that doesn't happen here, the riot footage 
smacks of opportunism. There may well have been a connection be 
tween the television age and those youthful protests as McLuhan 
has maintained but it is utterly unestablished here. 

At bottom the fault of the picture is that Wexler himself is caught 
in the same traps as his hero: in the sensual pleasure of shooting film, 
the ease of creating effects, indulgence in them for their own sake, 
a kind of reliance on film itself to bail him out of trouble. Of course 
it's obvious that he's a man of social concerns; the subject demon 
strates that. But there were a lot of thirties playwrights who thought 
that their concern with social truth excused their artistic dishonesty 
or staleness. Now there is considerable evidence that new American 
film makers of serious intent and social concern are similarly schi 
zoid: they act as if their intentions and concerns licensed them for the 
very frauds and cliches and unfulfillments that they would deride in 
Hollywood hacks. 

In Wexler's case it is really painful because he has exceptional tal 
ents. He is well worth watching to see whether his future work is 
free of patent contrivance and glib sensation (in honest causes, of 
course) or, what is worse, phony candor; whether he will take the 



196 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

trouble to become a thorough artist or will ride along as a flashy, 
superior Lumet-Frankenheimer clevernik. 



Spirits of the Dead 

(September 27, 1969) 

Go to see Spirits of the Dead about an hour after it begins. It's a 
three-part film three Poe horror stories made by three different di 
rectors. The first two are silly bores, by the justly disregarded Roger 
Vadim and the greatly overrated Louis Malle. The third is by Fed- 
erico Fellini. And his horror story is joyous. 

Joyous, not because Fellini has no sense of the macabre after 
all, his story ends with decapitation but because he revels in making 
films and because his darting invention never stops playing around 
and through the picture, so that even this film of terror plunges us 
into a sort of Satanic champagne. Fellini's career easily divides into 
two periods: the first, hi which his cinematic mind serves his humanist 
concerns; the second, in which his humanist concerns are the base for 
stylist exultation. (La Dolce Vita is the transitional film between the 
two periods.) This short film is very much a matter of execution, not 
content; although I don't suppose there is a "new" visual concept in 
it, Fellini's familiar ideas are still exciting. 

Toby Dammit, liberally adapted from Poe's "Never Bet the Devil 
Your Head," is about a sodden English film star (Terence Stamp) 
as he arrives in Rome to make a Western that will allegorize the 
myth of Redemption. Stamp, as we can see and the others cannot, 
is haunted by the devil in the figure of a sly little girl who bounces a 
white ball. Why Stamp is bedeviled, what the root and resolution 
are in his little drama unless Satan is out to keep him from com 
mitting sacrilege! these are never made clear. The film is as hollow 
as the devil-child's white ball, but how it bounces! 

All the latter-day Fellini hallmarks swirl past: the grotesquerie of 
reality (a street-paving crew who suddenly look like Inquisition tor 
turers) and of exaggeration (faces wearing exaggerated makeup like 
documents of their past); the flirting fun with the Church (nuns hi 



SPIRITS OF THE DEAD 197 

files and sincerely phony priests); tlie quick, sharp character touches 
(as a producer sits down to talk, he runs a comb through his hair); 
the editing that lets us see the image just long enough for the after 
image to touch the next shot; the whirling motion, at the center of 
which is a smiling mind; the feeling that there is too much, too much, 
and how wonderful it is to be in the company of a man who has too 
much. 

Sparkling as it is, Toby Dammit is not as good as Fellini's previous 
short film, The Temptation of Dr. Antonio in Boccaccio '70. Dr. 
Antonio was a simple antimoralistic morality tale, but its very sim 
plicity made the complex style tickle. The new script is a solo for 
Stamp, with various accompaniments, but it never much engages 
us as a morality drama and Stamp has little chance to do more than 
look damned, which he certainly does. But from the first moments 
of his arrival in Rome (echoing Anita Ekberg's arrival in La Dolce 
Vita) on through a TV interview that made one TV interviewer 
(myself) wriggle with its truth, to a sort of Italian Oscar-award cere 
mony, the switch is turned, the motors are humming, Fellini is flying. 
And if a director is going to concentrate on flash, as he does here, 
short films are better than long ones, for an obvious reason. I wish 
the script of Toby Dammit were more diabolical, but Fellini's deviltry 
is almost enough. 

The costumes, by Piero Tosi (who did The Leopard), are in the 
tradition of those that Piero Gherardi has done for Fellini, reveal 
ing possibilities for contemporary clothes that are quite logical and 
quite extraordinary. The photography, by Giuseppe Rotunno, is 
excellent. The editing, by Ruggero Mastroianni (Marcello's brother), 
is up to the very high level of his past Fellini films. And the score is, 
as usual, by Nino Rota, whom Fellini calls "a man made of music, 
an angelic friend." 

One point about Fellini's lighting is specially interesting. In his 
recent films the lighting has been much more theatrical than realistic: 
low angles, profiles cut out of the dark, the frequent recurrence of 
silhouettes, and the changes of light during a shot. In Toby Dammit 
an additional theatricality is clear. Often, but especially in the TV 
interview and in the award ceremony, scenes are lighted like stages 
and are surrounded by dark, the location in the world is treated like 
a setting in a theater, and we get the feeling that these lives by im 
plication, our lives are being enacted before an unseen audience. 



198 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Before whom? Perhaps Fellini has remained more of a Catholic than 
he likes to admit. 



Alice's Restaurant 

(September 27, 1969) 

ARLO Guthrie's ballad "Alice's Restaurant" is casual, pleasant, 
funny, and youthfully free, and Arthur Perm's film of the same title 
tries for the same qualities. Formally, this was a natural move for 
Penn; in his last film, Bonnie and Clyde, he imposed a ballad form 
on his story, and here he has begun with a ready-made ballad. There 
is of course a radical difference in the possibilities of this new mate 
rial, and considering that Penn opted for lyrical and meandering 
material, which is difficult to sustain in film, he has had some success 
in recreating its moods. 

Guthrie's song, as thousands know, is about his arrest for littering 
in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and how his subsequent criminal 
record turns out to be a boon when he is called up for military in 
duction. Penn, who wrote the script with Venable Herndon, uses this 
slight narrative as both goal and springboard. We see Guthrie before 
the incident, traveling the country, spending some time in a college, 
visiting his dying father (the famous Woody) in a New York hospital, 
and living with Alice and Ray Brock in Stockbridge. The Brocks, in 
their thirties, have taken over a deconsecrated church and have made 
it into a hippie hostel. Alice also runs a restaurant nearby. Arlo's 
slim story is supplemented by hippie parties, Brock marital troubles, 
the story of a hippie sculptor on heroin and how he doesn't break 
the habit, and the closure of the church at the end to form a com 
mune in Vermont. 

Penn has ability, and he cannot make a film without giving it some 
distinctions. There is a lot in this film that is very easy to take. Not 
much of it will bear close examination, esthetic or otherwise, but a 
good deal of it trips (both meanings), comic induction sketches 
of the Second City or Committee kind, cozy joshing of the police all 
these are amiable. Penn is not a director of strong, recognizable char- 



ALICE'S RESTAURANT 199 

acter, he is a responder to influences; and he is more interesting here, 
where he is responding to hippie-ballad influences, than under the 
influences that produced such grandiose, vacuous responses as Mickey 
One and The Chase. 

But the fact of his being a visitor on the hippie scene throws light 
on some things about himself and also about the scene. First, Penn 
is a great believer in redemption through Beauty. In Alice there is 
a scene of the heroin addict's burial, shot in a snowfall. (The influ 
ences are various Japanese directors, together with Fellini group 
ings.) It's as egregiously Beautiful as anything I've seen since the 
meeting between the wounded Bonnie and Clyde and the Okies by 
the stream. Penn evidently thinks that if he just rears back and makes 
Beauty, it gives a scene validity and conviction. It was not true of 
the Bonnie and Clyde sequence, and the use of Beauty here is even 
less redemptive because there isn't even a mistaken conviction behind 
it; it is just aping of the attitudes of the East Village. While the snow 
falls, Joni Mitchell sings "Songs to Aging Children," as if some special 
holy innocence were being committed to the earth. But I can't see 
why this boy's death is any more tragic or martyrish than the drug 
death of a Puerto Rican slum dweller or a Bowery derelict, to both 
of whom the hippies might seem stupid freaks. All that we know spe 
cifically in this case is that if Alice had slept with this boy more, he 
might have stayed off drugs. But Penn buys all the hippie tenets of 
innate superiority and purity without any examination at all. 

And carries them further. In Easy Rider, made by young men, 
Peter Fonda is shown as a young sage-martyr. Penn pushes the con 
cept and makes Arlo Guthrie a considerable prig. Every time Arlo 
gets in trouble with college authorities or police or anyone else be 
cause of his outstanding honesty and simplicity, he says something 
aw-shucks on the sound track about "Seems like I have this habit of 
gettin' arrested," or some variation of it, as modestly heroic as you 
please. At one point he works in a nightclub owned by a middle-aged 
woman. (She knew his daddy in the Movement, for gosh sakes. How 
old can you get!) When she tries to make him, he recoils and pre 
fers to be fired, with a purity that would have done Ruby Keeler 
proud when Paul Porcasi tried to put his greasy mitts on her back in 
thirties nightclub flicks. When a mid-teens groupy takes her clothes 
off to lay him and tells him that she has made it with a number of 
rock performers, he is nobler than Gary Cooper in refusing to take 



200 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

advantage of her. And since Arlo, played by Arlo, is a pallid person 
ality and is zero as an actor, those scenes are pretty ridiculous. 

My own reaction to the hippie views shown in this film is some 
what less adulatory. With some understanding (I hope) of the rea 
sons that hippies exist, I still think they have a considerable tinge of 
the exploiter about them. One instance: when Alice and Ray reno 
vate their church (no mention, by the way, of where they get the 
money to free themselves of money society), they and their hip 
friends line the walls with insulation material. All I could think of was 
the men working hi factories and in sales agencies to make that in 
sulation available to these people who despise factories and sales 
manship. Hippies, like all superficial Fourierists, have the effect of 
mirror-image eighteenth-century aristocrats. Is society constrictive 
and overorganized? Let 'em eat freedom. 

The best performer hi the picture is Pat Quinn new to me a very 
sexy young woman, as Alice. The most interesting character is Ray 
(James Broderick), who is close to forty, apparently, and is hung up 
on hippies. I wanted to know more about this asynchronous man 
and how he got that way. It would be glib to suggest an analogy be 
tween Ray and Perm himself, but I kept wondering what Penn's feel 
ings were about Ray specifically hi this regard. I never found out 
nor anything else much about the man. 

During the best sequence, the last, I thought of Walden, the last 
chapter. Thoreau tells us that he left the woods for as good reason 
as he went there. This man who left society because (for one thing) 
he disliked its routines tells us that he had been in the woods only 
a week when he noticed that he had already beaten a path, from 
his door to the pondside. Some such idea may have been in Penn's 
mind in his conclusion. Alice is in the doorway of the church, which 
she is soon to leave to found a commune. Loneliness is in the air. As 
the light changes, the camera moves hi slow circles without ever leav 
ing her face: away from her and back to her hi slow circles. It is the 
moment in the film that seems to me most authentically Penn's; much 
of the rest is just more or less "with-it." 



A RECENT CHANGE 201 

A Recent Change 

(October 4 f 1969) 

A new book about films of the forties, Barbara Deming's Running 
Away from Myself, underscores by implication a significant change 
in films of the late sixties. Miss Deming reminds us that American 
films in the past usually reflected the truth of American lives with 
out intending to, that films manufactured as commercial entertain 
ments were inescapably the products of contemporary psyches. Within 
the last two years, there has been a considerable shift: many Ameri 
can films have quite consciously come to grips with social phenomena 
and with psychical states. (I'm speaking of a change in well-budgeted 
theatrical films. Underground films have always tried to treat those 
matters; one of their reasons for existence was to compensate for 
the lack of such honest encounter in aboveground films.) This is 
not to say that psychical substructure has disappeared from these 
new films, but much that was once implied, or that seeped into films 
only because it couldn't be kept out, is now there by explicit design. 
The press has been filled lately with accounts of the arrival of 
the New American Film. Several writers now give the cause of the 
change as the appearance of The Graduate. When I said in late 1967 
and again in early 1968 that The Graduate was "a milestone in 
American film history," the remark was greeted with some hoots. I 
raise this matter now not (or not only!) to show my acuteness but to 
emphasize how quickly the flood has burst, as if it had been straining 
at a dam that suddenly gave way. Obviously some of these films were 
in the works before The Graduate appeared and obviously some 
"personal" films were made in this country before then, but there 
is now a strong new direction of which the Mike Nichols picture 
was the first visible marker, which is what "milestone" means. Let's 
define a "personal" film (yet again) as one made primarily because 
the maker wants to make it, not as a contract job: analogous as far 
as the conditions of the medium permit with a poet's writing a 
poem or a sculptor's making a sculpture. In most of these new films 
the subject is some aspect of American society or some experience of 
the film maker's that he wants to investigate and correlate with the 



202 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

world. In more of these films than is usual, the director wrote or col 
laborated on the script. 

Here are some of those films, with brief comments on the ones I 
have not previously reviewed: Greetings; Goodbye, Columbus; Last 
Summer; Easy Rider; The Wild Bunch; Putney Swope; and Medium 
Cool The Learning Tree, written and directed and scored by Gordon 
Parks, is banal and sentimental, with glucose music, and is photo 
graphed through assorted fruit juices, still it's an important event in 
our cultural history. Autobiographical films, such as this, are rare 
enough, and this one is by a black man about his boyhood. Ten years 
ago it would have been inconceivable that such a film would be fi 
nanced by a major producer; five years ago it would have been highly 
improbable. And (as I have seen) its effect on a black audience, 
after decades of peripheral black characters in films, is one of power 
ful affirmation. The Rain People is a tedious and affected piece about 
a wandering young wife who "finds" herself through her experiences 
with a simple brute, the most painful bit of preciosity since Jack Gar- 
fein's Something Wild (1961), which it resembles somewhat; but it 
was written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, a relatively re 
cent film-school graduate, and whatever it is, is his own work. Who's 
That Knocking at My Door? is by a more recent film-school grad 
uate, Martin Scorsese, and, on a more limited budget, again tries to 
substitute camera shenanigans for insight and content. The script, 
about Italian-American puritanism, is like that familiar first novel or 
first play where the author thinks that, because he's writing of what 
he knows, we will automatically want to know it, too; but distinctly it 
is a "personal" film. 

To this list could be added Midnight Cowboy, which was directed 
by an Englishman but is American in backing, source, script, and per 
formance, and Alice's Restaurant. Arthur Penn is so well established 
that he can do virtually anything he chooses; his choice of Alice re 
flects the temper of the past two years. 

All these films are of widely varying quality and prove yet again 
that to make a film "personally" is no guarantee of artistic success. 
A straight commercial film like Hot Millions or Funny Girl is a lot 
more rewarding than The Rain People. And as I've noted in my re 
views of Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider and Medium Cool, the 
free souls have their own falsities and self-indulgences to beware of. 
Still the promise in this new situation cannot be denied. 



A RECENT CHANGE 203 

The reason for this change in the theatrical mainstream is, I 
believe, the presence in the audience of the millions who have been 
pouring out of colleges since World War II and the millions who 
are now in colleges: their growing interest in the film, their reliance 
on it as they rely on no other art; their rejection of the ludicrousness 
of the commercial formulas or at least their refusal to accept them 
as the totality of film; their concern with the society in which they 
live and themselves in that society; their shame at the difference be 
tween what has been happening in the best postwar European film 
and what had been happening here. The fulcrum on which the change 
turned, the essential component, is of course the mind of the financier. 
He has seen where the money is; at least he has seen that the money 
is not unfailingly where it used to be; and in his bewildered thrashings 
about, he has sometimes thrashed toward the personal film. Of course 
if personal films don't make money, their future is going to be in diffi 
culty, just as the French New Wave ebbed quickly when so many 
of those films lost money; so I hope that, in his floundering, the 
financier doesn't back too many fuddlers or fashionmongers or arty 
fakers, or else he will soon do his floundering in some other direction. 
But in the meanwhile a needed avenue has been opened. 



(October 18, 1969) 

Two weeks ago I commented on the freshet of "personal" American 
films and said that I thought the chief reason for it was the changed 
attitude toward film of the millions who have come out of college 
since the Second War, along with the millions who are now in college. 
Some friends, and some others, have pointed out that this influence is 
far from discriminating, that young people tend to like films about 
young people so long as their lives and language and viewpoints are 
credibly portrayed. This is true enough. In speaking to young audi 
ences, I often run into difficulties in criticizing one of "their" pictures. 
If it tells the "truth" about their lives, they don't care much about 
other factors, just as many blacks don't care about the faults in The 
Learning Tree because at last there is a full-dress American picture 
about blacks. 

Well, I do care about those other factors very much; and I think 
they are important to the future of all films, including those about 



204 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

young people and about blacks. But need a blessing be unmixed in 
order to be a blessing? In the world at large, has one endorsed the 
mindlessness of much youthful protest just because one is glad of the 
true moral passion in some of it? The fact is that if this new genera 
tion (and it runs up to forty) did not exist, evasive and shortsighted 
as it often is, this new movement in American films would not exist. 
They have at least budged the American film industry off its up 
holstered seat. What needs to happen now is for young people white 
and black to get over the first rush of gratitude, to get bored with 
films that merely tell some truth about them. By their own discrimina 
tion, they can help prevent the industry from slickly pandering to 
them; and thus keep alive this new, but vulnerable, chance for growth. 



The Bed Sitting Room 

(October IS, 1969) 

PLENTY of voices have been eager to tell us that the trouble with 
Richard Lester's new film is that it is like How I Won the War. I 
disagree. The trouble with The Bed Sitting Room is that it is dif 
ferent. 

The new film was made from a play by Spike Milligan and John 
Antrobus that had a considerable London run. Milligan has a big 
British reputation, but on the basis of this work and of his perform 
ance (he is in the film), the reason eludes me. Lester knows him from 
early television days and evidently values him. Some auld acquaint 
ance should be forgot. 

This is an absurdist farce that takes place three years after the 
next war, which itself lasted two minutes and twenty-eight seconds. 
London, where it all happens, is now one vast cindery waste, with a 
few scraps of buildings, the top of St. Paul's dome, a park of broken 
dishes, and a mountain of shoes. Underneath runs the underground, 
pointlessly, powered by a bicycle-driven generator and inhabited by 
a few of the twenty people left. Overhead floats an orange balloon 
containing two detectives, ordering everyone (such as that is) to keep 
moving, so as not to present a good target to a potential enemy. 



THE BED SITTING ROOM 205 

In this nowhere that is left, while we hear a series of old-timey 
foxtrots and waltzes on the sound track, we get a series of farce and 
slapstick situations based on fantasy extensions of atomic mutation. 
A lord (Ralph Richardson) feels he is changing, and does change, 
into a bed-sitting room. Rita Tushingham, impregnated in the un 
derground, gives birth after eighteen months to a monster, which is 
followed soon by a normal baby. Her father changes into a parrot, 
her mother into a wardrobe. It all ends with qualified hope or per 
haps it's mitigated despair. 

At least two elements in this film are superb. David Watkin's color 
photography insists on every delicate shade of the waste on which we 
look, as if to satirize the idea of beauty here by rendering desolation 
with artistry. And most of the acting is excellent. Michael Hordern 
provides more of his fine flustering as a doctor; Arthur Lowe and 
Mona Washbourne, the girl's parents, give several textures to every 
thing they do; and the joy above all is Ralph Richardson. He passed 
through a long period in his career when he indulged in the most 
eccentric line readings since the ripest Orson Welles. He was never 
dull, but he was often mannered and self-serving. Then, with his Peter 
Teazle in The School for Scandal on Broadway a few years ago, a 
more mature Richardson appeared, interested only in the work in 
hand. His crazy lord here is a gem of caricature. You will go far to 
hear the English language inflected with more comic relish and 
subtlety. 

Lester's direction suffers from the constrictions of a theater piece, 
as it also did in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum 
and as it did not in The Knack. In the latter he and his adapter blew 
the play apart and mixed the bits with other bits of their own inven 
tion to make himself at home cinematically. The Bed Sitting Room 
has doubtless gone through changes from the original, but it remains 
a linear work which Lester follows in two-dimensional fashion. If the 
incidents had some interest or humor, which they generally do not, 
that would help. If the dialogue were funny, instead of being laden 
with weak puns and fizzled firecrackers, that would help, too. Even 
in Forum Lester made some attempt to break loose and release his 
proper gifts. Here he just plods along obediently after a gag writer's 
script. 

Thematically, the film is weak. The idea of showing nuclear horror 
obliquely, through farce, is more stimulating than the earnest con- 



206 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

floatation with holocaust that some have tried; at least It involves an 
attitude, a transformation, that makes it more real than piled-on 
screams and flames. But the very first view of Hordern in his nonex 
istent surgery or of the family living in the subway car tells us 
absolutely everything that can be done in this vein; the rest is protrac 
tion, not development. And what if it were developed what would 
the point be? A warning? To us? The people who elected Richard 
Nixon or possibly would have preferred Hubert Humphrey? 
Basically what puts me off this film is the implication that it contains 
a learnable lesson a lesson that we could all easily master, if only 
we would, like quitting cigarettes. 

Not How I Won the War. The really extraordinary qualities of 
that film are that it keeps its ridiculousness and its killing all in the 
same unfunny comic vein; and that Lester's pyrotechnics, with this 
base, cut through the pietism in all of us to some truth: namely, we 
doom ourselves and we like it that way. If Freud's thesis of the death 
instinct is now questioned, still it is obviously and demonstrably true 
that there are things we are more afraid of than death, such as losing 
the perquisites of ego. 

Last winter I showed How I Won the War at a Midwest university 
and spoke about It. Afterward a young man told me that the picture 
had really frightened him because he recognized, in the militaristic 
hullabaloo, the very feelings that had filled him when he marched 
in an anti- Vietnam protest a few days before. That reaction helps to 
clarify why The Bed Sitting Room is a weak humanist gesture and 
the earlier film is an important work. How I Won the War tells us 
(with breathtaking art) not that we are victims of bureaucracies or 
that enlisted men are angels slaughtered by devilish officers but that 
we are all finished now that we have the power to finish ourselves 
unless we go deeper than deploring war and nuclear bombs; unless 
we see that even the people who say that war is horrible and say 
It quite sincerely are part of the horror, too. 

As for Lester and his professional future, if he had a debt to Spike 
Milligan, he has now paid it; and can move on. 



ADALEN 31 207 

Adalen 31 

(October 25, 1969} 

Bo Widerberg, the Swedish director, has now restated his idea of 
tragedy: make everything very pretty and then have something nasty 
happen. In Elvira Madigan honey flowed all over the screen until the 
two lovers met their suicide pact. Calendar pictures of perfect idylls 
fluttered past until harsh facts perfectly predictable except to that 
dumb pair ripped the pictures across. Now we get Adalen 31, 
which takes place in the Swedish town of that name in 1931 and is 
about an actual labor struggle in which five people were killed. (The 
event led to the victory of the Social Democrats, who have dominated 
Swedish politics since then.) Before the fight we see the family of a 
striking worker, all of them perfectly happy; and we see the boss's 
family, every one of whom is a perfect doll. The worker's oldest son 
meets the boss's beautiful daughter, and they make beautiful first 
love. (Including a pregnancy, which the girl's mother handles with 
beautiful aplomb.) Then, into all this beautifulness, the harsh con 
frontation irrupts. But even that trouble like the Madigan suicides 
is beautiful: a wistful long shot of marching workers across a lake, 
a soldier putting flowers on his machine gun. There is even some 
beautiful blood. At the end the dead worker's family are cleaning 
their windows with beautiful smiles in a beautiful bit of symbolism. 

There are some good performances: Peter Schildt as the young 
lover, Kerstin Tidelius as his mother, Roland Hedlund as his father. 
There is an enchanting small boy. (Widerberg handles children well.) 
The girl, Marie de Geer, has a large, sunny face. Her mother is nicely 
sketched by Anita Bjork, more mature of course than she was in Miss 
Julie (1950) but no less attractive. And there are a couple of good 
scenes: the angry strikers berating the worker-father for helping a 
wounded strike breaker; a drunken officer, after the slaughter, telling 
the boss who now scorns him that it was he who paid for the bullets. 

But much of the rest, often shot in great soft close-ups, is a run- 
through of the stock symptoms of adolescence and some stock views 
of workingmen, their games and teasings. When the men are finally 
at the end of their patience and march in protest, out of nowhere 
(as far as the film is concerned) comes the Internationale. The 



208 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

slaughter is equally unprepared, either in terms of the boss's brutality 
or the soldiery's oppression. There is not even the sense of a flash 
accident, something that was not meant to get serious but that blew 
up. There is simply a sense of omission a disconnection between 
most of the picture and its climax. 

The obvious comparison is with Monicelli's The Organizer (1963), 
which is about similar struggles in Turin at the turn of the century 
and which has seemed better to me each of the three times I've seen 
it. Monicelli's film is rooted in history and in ideological currents, 
yet replete with the life of individuals: a work that traces aspiration, 
heroism, futility, and stubborn aspiration on its way to futility again 
in other words, it has some sense of the human condition. Wider- 
berg, who has the ability to make nice scenes, has too limited a vision 
and is too pleased with his prettinesses to come near an achievement 
like that. 



Duet for Cannibals 

(November 15, 1969) 

Duet -for Cannibals was written and directed by Susan Sontag and on 
that ground, though not much else, demands comment. It tells of 
an encounter between a young, unmarried Stockholm couple and 
an older, married couple. The husband is a well-known German 
Communist activist and teacher, the wife is Italian. The older couple 
seek to "devour" the younger, not only by utilizing them sexually 
but by trying to engulf their psyches with a series of tricks. The 
tricks pile on so thick that it is difficult to know which end is up, 
in bed or elsewhere, but this confusion seems intended as evocative 
ambiguity. 

The film is a parallel of Miss Sontag's two novels. We are aware 
that she is versed in the "literature" of the field. We get a string of 
symbols so blatant that their very blatancy is presumably supposed 
to make them fresh again: wigs, beards, bandages on eyes, fake 
deaths, snips of Wagner on the sound track. (This last signifies nine 
teenth-century romanticism in music, as well as in politics, pursuing 



TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE 209 

the New Left, I daresay.) But, as with Miss Sontag's novels, she sim 
ply does not convince us of the need for the work to exist. After we 
have added up the totals of esthetic apparatus, there is still no af 
fective center in the work. It has no result in us (save tedium). I 
went with some admiration that she had made a picture; I left with 
some irritation that her literary prestige had got her a chance that 
people with film talent cannot easily get. 

Anyway, to praise Miss Sontag for having made a film at all is 
really not much more than to praise her for having actually written 
novels. Films are technically more complicated, but film makers 
can have a lot of technical help and advice and refuge. As for the 
Swedish language, she herself has told us that there was no problem 
because so many Swedes are bilingual. (She wrote her own English 
subtitles.) At first I was surprised that, for a critic so concerned with 
the "visual" approach to film, Miss Sontag shows little that is in 
dividual or striking in her ability to see; but then I remembered that 
her critical essays on the importance of style are themselves written 
in generally lamentable style. 

I liked one sequence. The young couple are in a restaurant, with 
an obstreperous demented tramp at a nearby table. The manager 
throws the tramp out, and he lurks outside to harass the young couple 
in the street. I got a vivid feeling of the random craziness that lies 
in wait to murder any of us these days, figuratively or otherwise. But 
these were the only vital moments for me in an otherwise tiresome 
and arty construct. 



Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here 

(December 6, 1969) 

THIS film, written and directed by Abraham Polonsky, is his second. 
His first, Force of Evil, was made in 1948. For almost twenty years 
his film career has been in the deep freeze because of political black 
listing. In that time Polonsky has written a novel and (presumably 
pseudonymous) film and TV scripts; and in that time Force oj Evil 
has acquired some fervent admirers. (I saw it only once, when it came 



210 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

out, and remember liking it.) It was adapted from Tucker's People 
by Ira Wolfert, a long, grinding novel of some eventual power that 
deals with crime and business and their relation. Wolfert collaborated 
on the screen adaptation. 

Polonsky's chief film work previously had been the original screen 
play for Body and Soul, directed by Robert Rossen. Both Body and 
Soul and Force of Evil starred John Garfield. The subjects, sport as 
brutal business and large-scale urban crime together with the flavor 
of Garfield typified a phenomenon of the time: the confrontation 
of the child of Jewish immigrants with the American metropolis, the 
fascination and horror of the power hive and the human gristmill, 
combined with the discovery of a vast new arena in which to exer 
cise the perennial Jewish passion for social justice. 

The last twenty years have been so tumultuous that one is pre 
pared for an exile to come back completely outdated or strenuously 
updated. The surprise in Polonsky's new film is that it is neither one 
nor the other but contains modified elements of both. 

He has shifted ground visually and symbolically, but his perspec 
tives remain much the same. Like many writers and film makers 
with other interests, he has seen in the American West a theater of 
metaphoric possibilities. His screenplay, from a book by Harry Law- 
ton, is based on the true story of a young Paiute Indian called Willie 
Boy who returns to his California reservation in 1909 after some 
months of work elsewhere and takes up again with a Paiute girl whom 
he loves. They tried to run away once before, but her father stopped 
them. (His objection to Willie is unspecified.) Now the father tells 
Willie that he will kill him if the boy comes near his daughter. That 
night the lovers have a rendezvous, are surprised by the father and 
the girl's brothers, and in self-defense Willie kills the father. He and 
the girl flee on foot. All this would not have amounted to much in 
the ordinary course of things. As Willie says to the girl, "They won't 
catch us. They won't even try. Nobody gives a damn what Indians 
do." But by coincidence President Taft is touring that part of Cali 
fornia at the time, and memories of the assassination of McKMey 
raise nervousness about a murderer on the loose in the Presidential 
vicinity. (Plus the fact that the local authorities want to look good 
while the national spotlight is on the area.) So a posse, including 
three Indian policemen, sets out after the lovers, (The sheriff, in a 
Joyce-cum-cinema pun, is called Cooper.) 



TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE 211 

It is immediately clear how such a story, lying in wait in U.S. his 
tory as Jack Johnson's story did for Howard Sadder, would spark 
a man of Polonsky's temperament. It is almost a made-to-order 
parable on themes of racial prejudice, white guilt transmuted to ag 
gression, Lawrentian blood-life pitted against legally sanctified blood- 
lust, and the specter of capitalist-militarist society lurking in the 
ample shadow of President Taft. And the shape of the story a 
chase through the California mountains, an arrow-flight from im 
pulsion to death is quintessentially cinematic. 

As for the last the sheerly filmic qualities of Willie Boy Polon- 
sky has done superbly. He has "seen" his film beforehand, which in 
itself is not commonplace, and has realized exquisitely what he en 
visioned. Conrad Hall, who did the outstanding black-and-white pho 
tography of In Cold Blood, has provided color photography that is 
above the generally high current American standard; Melvin Shapiro's 
editing is acute; and with them Polonsky has created a film of fine 
fabric. I disliked the music of Dave Grusin a treacly mind trying 
to be modern and tart but almost everything that was done after 
the script and casting were finished is admirable. Polonsky uses some 
melodramatic visual contrasts deep night followed by a shot of 
bright sun so that we actually blink at the glare in the movie theater, 
but his images of both are so pithy that the melodrama is tempered. 
Some of his compositions are derivative the first shot of the isolated 
railroad station suggests the famous long shot of the homestead in 
Stevens' Giant but there is a spanking impact in them that makes 
them valid. Polonsky has used the Panavision screen for its "loud" 
and "soft" best. There is a wide shot of the posse searching a ford for 
tracks that in itself says something of nature as refuge and enemy. 
And there is unusual deftness in the close two-shots and three-shots 
on the stretchy Panavision screen. One scene between the sheriff 
and his lady friend, shot under the enormous brim of her fancy 
hat, embodies the very idea of the close-up; larger but figuratively 
smaller, more intimate and private. 

Several of the performances are very good. Robert Blake, the 
Perry Smith of In Cold Blood, is Willie Boy and comes on taut and 
seamless, ensealed in Willie's experience and expectations. He knows 
the world he lives in and is ready, his compact body like a small 
mobile fortress. Robert Redford, the sheriff, achieves here what he 
missed in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a performance com- 



212 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

pletely within the film, devoid of references to extrinsic ail-American 
boyish appeal. Susan Clark, as the Eastern young lady doctor in 
charge of the reservation, has dignity and sexual susceptibility. 

But then we come to what we might call (on the basis of Medium 
Cool) the Haskell Wexler touches: the falsities in a film dedicated to 
anti-falseness. Who can believe Katharine Ross of The Graduate 
and Butch Cassidy as the Indian girl? Miss Ross plays it adequately, 
but she looks like a Bryn Mawr girl after a month in Hawaii. Who 
can believe that this Indian girl, going to a secret rendezvous with 
her lover and knowing that his life is in danger, would wear a white 
dress? Just because it looks good in the low-key lighting of the shot? 
Would she and Willie then have made love in the middle of an open 
glade by moonlight? Just so that we could see a good composition 
when the father and brothers surprise them? The line with which the 
lady doctor recites her credentials is clumsy theatrical exposition, 
self-consciously trying to get over gawkiness in a medium that affords 
other ways to handle factual groundwork. When she comes into her 
hotel room and discovers Redford there, it may surprise her but can 
not surprise anyone who has seen, say, three films in his life. And at 
the end, wouldn't Willie Boy, the "natural" man, have heard the 
sheriff climbing up behind him on the rocks in those boots? Willie 
doesn't hear because the finish is needed for the film. 

And then we come to what have to be called the Stanley Kramer 
touches: the assumptions and patterns that translate liberal thought 
into the knee-jerk responses of liberalistic drama. The characters 
and issues wear tags, as in a nineteenth-century theater program. At 
the start the storekeeper and the pool shark are so blatantly anti- 
Indian that we feel they are being painted into a backdrop against 
which the story is to be played. (Of course their attitudes are real 
enough in life, but credibility in art is a different matter.) Similarly, 
the old-time Indian fighter played by Barry Sullivan like a wall-to- 
wall urban account executive probably -would long for the days 
when he could kill at will, but here he has been brought in merely to 
spout those sentiments, so he is less than believable. The sheriff is 
given that "human" twist that is now almost as much a cliche as 
the brutal sheriff: a feeling of communion with the man he is hunting, 
a sense that the fugitive is intrinsically superior to the posse that is 
hunting him. We got it from the sheriff in Lonely Are the Brave and 
the sheriff in The Defiant Ones (Kramer's best picture, I still think, 



TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE 213 

though I overrated it at the time). I was sorry to see Polonsky dust 
off that stale novelty. 

The two pairs of lovers are contrasted so patently that art shrivels: 
the two Indians, who want nothing but to live together; the two 
whites, whose civilized complexities make them want to kill each 
other in bed. At one point there is even a segue from the white 
woman's humiliated weeping in her hotel room to the Indian girl's 
sobbing by her lover in the open air from the unhappy white 
society to the unhappiness caused by that society. How can we not 
get the point? What option does Polonsky give us? 

He does make some attempt to take the picture out of moral 
simplicities. There are gnomic utterances: when someone says of 
the chase, "It doesn't make sense," the reply is, "Maybe that's the 
sense it makes." The Indian girl's death is deliberately left un 
explained. Did she kill herself to unburden Willie's flight? Or did he 
kill her, in old tribal style, so that she would not fall into enemy 
hands? These, and other devices, try to give some body of mystery 
to a morality play; but the bones of the morality stick through. 

At the fundamental level of the film's theme, there is no drama of 
consequence. The characters simply obey the author. If this is how 
things actually occur in history, that fact is no more artistic justification 
here than with the bigots' dialogue mentioned above. Nothing really 
happens to either of the major characters except that eventually one 
kills the other, which might have happened near the beginning as 
fittingly as at the end. From the start, Willie is a fatalist, ready to die. 
From the start, the sheriff is respectful of him (declining to interfere 
with Willie's illegal drinking on the reservation) and also his con 
genital enemy as he still is at the end. The two simply move through 
the action unaltered and unalterable. It is the lack of possibility in 
them, for change or difference, that reduces them from characters to 
exponents. There is a substantial difference between predestined 
figures, pursued by Furies, and puppets in a parable. Across Polon- 
sky's often gorgeous screen moves his invisible blackboard pointer. 

All of us have been warned repeatedly that the critical issue of 
Form versus Content is a corpse, but here the "versus" is so heavily 
underscored that it puts argument into the corpse once more. On 
one hand there is Polonsky the filmer, fluent and sensitive, elliptical, 
with a fine rhythmic sense of when to touch and when to hold, and 
a compositional sense that plumbs his images. On the other hand there 



214 FIGURES OF LIGHT 



is Polonsky the writer, whose cosmos is bounded by rigid ideas of 
order without resonance. In the age of Beckett and Pinter, Polonsky s 
dramaturgy still smacks of early Odets and John Howard Lawson. 
So for all the excellences of his directing, his film is not very moving. 
It has the effect of a modern remake of a picture we saw some time 

^The paradox is that his twenty years of enforced inaction are not 
apparent in his direction, of which he has done none in that tune, 
only in his writing, at which he has been busy. Still, it is a happiness to 
welcome him back if "welcome" is not an offense to a man who has 
been stupidly and cruelly barred for so long. Other artists have 
suffered in their subsequent work from enforced inactivity, storing 
up undelivered messages, resolving not to change, as proof that they 
have not been bowed by adversity. Now that Polonsky is back we 
can all hope that he can keep working and that work itself will flex 
all of his powers equally. 

POSTSCRIPT. Later I saw Body and Soul and Force of Evil again, and 
both had diminished badly. Both scripts seemed products of a mind 
which believes that, by pouring on imitation-Odets dialogue, one 
converts a conventional genre picture and the warped version of a 
serious novel into works of social significance. Both films have un 
believable endings. As the boxer in Body and Soul, Garfield wins a 
fight although he has accepted $60,000 to throw it. (He doesn't give 
the money back, by the way, as far as we see.) After the fight, he 
defies the gambler who paid him, saying, "What can you do? Kill me? 
Evervbody dies." Then he and his girl walk off as if they really 
believed that this rhetorical gesture would keep him from being 
killed. The girl, particularly, is made to look phony by this empty 

Happy Ending. 

At the end of Force of Evil, Garfield, a crooked young lawyer, goes 
to look at his brother's dead body on the shore of a river, where he 
has been told it is lying. (He doesn't even pull it out of the water.) 
He has just killed the man who told him of the death, as the pre 
sumptive murderer, although his brother actually died of a heart 
attack Again Garfield is accompanied by that girl friend essential to 
a big last scene. And bis voice on the sound track says, "If a man can 
live so long and have his whole life come out like rubbish, then some 
thing was horribly wrong ... and I decided to help." The word 



z 215 

"rubbish" is meant to have a Gorkian ring, but all that has happened 
is that his taste for the criminal life was washed away by his brother's 
accidental death. (If his brother were still alive, he would not con 
sider his own life rubbish.) The transformation is mechanical, and his 
nobility is suspect because either he would have been caught by the 
police for the murder, or else the gangster friends of his victim 
would have killed him. 

Force of Evil has further hollowness. Polonsky makes the usual 
Hollywood pretense of the day, when dealing with Jews, that the 
characters are not Jewish. Beatrice Pearson is as egregiously miscast 
here as Katharine Ross in Willie Boy. And the dialogue is full of 
bombast intended to be deep and resonant. Example: "111 kill you 
with my own hands rather than let you put the mark of Cain on my 
brother." 

The paradox of Willie Boy becomes all the more marked by 
seeing Force of Evil again. Polonsky has been writing since 1948 but 
his writing has not much improved. He has not been directing, but 
his direction has acquired a much superior sensibility. 



(December 13, 1969) 

AN exciting film on an agonizing subject. Three years ago Vassili 
Vassilikos, a Greek writer now living in Paris, published a novel called 
Z 3 a thinly disguised account of the murder of Gregorios Lamfarakis 
in 1963. Lambrakis, a leftist deputy and a professor of medicine at 
the University of Athens, had just addressed a meeting in Salonika 
protesting the deployment of Polaris missiles in Greece when he 
was knocked down by a small truck; an investigation proved it was 
not an accident. In Greek the initial Z stands for zei "he lives" 
just as, in Italian, VV stands for viva. 

Jorge Semprun, himself a well-known novelist, has written the 
screenplay of the novel with Costa-Gavras, the director who made 
The Sleeping Car Murders. The film was shot in North Africa, in 
French, and is shown here with English subtitles. It is flawlessly acted, 



216 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

sharply edited, and excellently photographed in color by Raoul 
Coutard, Costa-Gavras has directed with fire but without much 
rhetoric. In the script there are polemical touches; in the direction 
there is passion but only a little dice-loading. It is not a drama of 
political ideas but of action in the political area. It has no political 
thought in it, to speak of no more, say, than the decor in a John 
LeCarre espionage thriller. We see the results of political conviction, 
in physical and moral courage. 

There is no mystery. The Sim begins with officialdom's intent to 
harass opposition bland harassments while mouthing democratic 
platitudes and a pretense that the death was an accident. We know 
otherwise. (Neither Greece nor Athens nor Salonika is mentioned, but 
shop signs and newspapers are Greek.) The matter would rest there, 
sat upon by the beefy rumps of generals and police chiefs, except for 
the young investigating magistrate who is brought in to put a quietus 
on the matter and who disappoints his superiors. It is he who is the 
hero of this film, not the deputy, who is only the occasion. 

Thus this is not a story of politics but of a quest for justice, of an 
investigator who presumably would have followed the facts wherever 
they led him politically. Without such a magistrate, the truth of the 
matter would have been irrelevant, and so would the protests of the 
dead man's friends. (Most of them were conveniently murdered soon 
after.) In fact, the doing of justice didn't really result in anything; 
the colonels took over the government in a few years anyway. But 
the struggle between idealism and power is always a good subject for 
fiction, in film or elsewhere; perhaps one of the justifications of fiction 
is to keep that struggle alive, to provide a point of tension against the 
world of fact in the newspapers. 

For Americans, the added horror of this film is that the muscle be 
hind the Greek government is American. I and many others have 
heard Andreas Papandreou, the former opposition leader, talk about 
arrant CIA influence on the colonels, which no one has really bothered 
to deny. After a short respectful pause, as a brief obeisance to demo 
cratic process, American military aid and corporate investment and 
tourism resumed. And a private event of such a character that it is 
not immune from comment the widow of a murdered American 
President married a chief financial backer of this government of 
unmistakable oppressors and torturers. 

Fundamentally, what Z dramatizes is something more terrible 



z 217 

than anything we see. The argument for American interference in 
Greece is, as usual, that Communism was stopped, although the 
recent report of the Council of Europe denies that a Communist take 
over was imminent in 1967. If there had been such a takeover, few 
of us believe that Communist officials would be less cruel than those 
we see here. But, as usual, that argument excludes a middle; and, as 
usual, American democracy ends up supporting gross reactionaries 
(no matter how labeled) against dogmatic leftists. The murder of the 
deputy is a factor of political war; in a noncynical way, we can get 
hardened to such acts. But the soul-shaking threat to the future is that 
men interested in truth men like the magistrate, uncommitted to 
dogma may not arise, or may not want to. That may be the real 
price we pay for putting iron lids on troubled countries. 

The physical impression that this film gives is that it is hurrying 
to record certain facts before they are covered over. Motion is of 
the essence. Costa-Gavras' camera tracks and dollies almost con 
stantly, yet without dizzying us (unlike a recent Czech fiasco called 
Sign of the Virgin), because all the motions are tightly linked to the 
impulses of the characters or of the audience. We insist that the 
camera move as it does, so the tracking both feeds and stimulates our 
concern. It looks as if Coutard has used long-focus lenses for much 
of his close work, particularly outdoors, which gives many of the 
close-ups and two-shots a grainy, unglamorous, almost journalistic 
feeling, as if we had been magically allowed to get near. And there 
are some shots that are almost salon gems, like one of an official's 
head against a white wall with some framed photographs on it 
something out of Erich Salomon. 

There are traces of slanting in the script. When the doomed deputy 
arrives at the airport, he stops to shake hands with a porter. (Wouldn't 
a fascist demagogue do the same?) After he is killed, his wife moons 
around his hotel room and weeps over his shaving lotion. (Don't the 
widows of murdered fascists miss them?) One of the two murderers is 
an aggressive homosexual. (Is that a fascist monopoly in the Middle 
East?) All the government men, except for the magistrate, are pom 
pous and slimy. All the opposition men are variously brave and 
sincere. But then this film is not a tragedy, at least not in the Hegelian 
sense: that is, the opposition of two partial truths, each of which 
thinks itself whole. Z is an intelligent drama, intended to whip up 
sympathy for one (necessarily) partial truth. Which it does. 



218 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Yves Montand as the murdered man and Jean-Louis Trintignant 
as the magistrate are simple and strong. Georges Geret is appealing as 
a witness whose testimony is crucial but who is absolutely apolitical 
and who just wants amiably to report what he saw. Renato Salvatori 
and Marcel Bozzufi freeze one's marrow as the two murderers. Charles 
Denner (of Landru and Life Upside Down) plays a leftist lawyer with 
his typical immediacy and heat. I have no flat rules about filmgoing, 
but if I had, one of them would be never to miss a film with Denner. 



In the Year of the Pig 

(December 13, 1969) 

CONCURRENT with reports of the U.S. Army's slaughter of 567 Viet 
namese villagers accompanied of course by President Thieu's quick 
denial comes a documentary called In the Year of the Pig. A mis 
leading title; the film has nothing to do with Weathermen or Chicago 
'68. 1 don't know what the title means. 

This is an account of the progressive American involvement in 
Vietnam, from the beginning, and was made by Emile de Antonio, 
co-maker of the Joe McCarthy documentary Point of Order. De 
Antonio got his film clips from American TV, from East Germany 
and Prague, and has interlaced them with good interviews that he 
made for this picture, with such subjects as Jean Lacouture (author of 
a fascinating biography of Ho Chi Minh), Senator Thraston Morton, 
Roger Hilsman, Harrison Salisbury, David Halberstam, Father Daniel 
Berrigan, and several others. Professor Paul Mus of Yale discusses 
Vietnamese cultural attitudes, which America disregards. (Two and 
a half years ago, in a series in the Atlantic, Frances FitzGerald made 
this same point about cultural barriers that force us to view Vietnam 
through American eyes. The situation seems unchanged.) 

Most of De Antonio's picture is straightforward, and therefore 
heartbreaking. Some of it is facile. (If you juxtapose subsequent 
events against public remarks, what political figure could not in some 
way be made ridiculous?) And occasionally the editing is tendentious. 
(A shot of an old Vietnamese woman crawling among ruins is 



THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? 219 

followed by a shot of a smiling U.S. soldier who may or may not have 
been looking at her.) But the sum is depressingly forceful. 

There are no surprises in it except the scary surprise that much of 
the story has already lapsed from memory. Remember President 
Eisenhower welcoming President Diem as a great hero? Remember 
Madame Nhu? The battle sequences are not as effective as those in 
Eugene Jones's A Face of War because, for one reason, they pay 
small attention to American suffering in the war and, for another, they 
are too long the picture's point is political. In that sphere it makes 
its mark, showing lucidly how we got into Vietnam, how stupid and 
corrupt the maneuvers were that got us there, and how millions are 
suffering every day in a war that virtually no one except the Saigon 
government wants but that continues simply because people can't 
agree on a way to stop it. 



They Shoot Horses, Don't They? 

(January 17, 1970) 

IT has a lot of the come-on of Harsh Truth-telling, but They Shoot 
Horses, Don't They? is quite empty. The film makers can brag to their 
mothers or analysts or wives or whomever they brag to that their 
picture is uncompromised and sticks bravely to its "downbeat" end 
ing, but so did Bette Davis' Marked Woman (1936). What this film 
lacks is any information about why it was made except that it wants 
to be commended for its forthrightness. Yes, in a broad glib manner, 
it lampoons "the American way," but that's a pretty big, enveloping 
tent into which a lot of people crawl without really paying any kind 
of painful admission. Nothing is easier than free surfing on a wave 
of national self-excoriation. 

Horace McCoy's novel of the same name (1935) deals with a 
dance marathon in the Hollywood of the Depression years, an event 
in which couples danced for days in order to win prize money. People 
paid to watch them struggle, and spectators also offered money for 
"sprints" when the contestants were particularly tired. The competi 
tors got ten minutes off for rest and food every two hours; the couple 
that danced 1,500 hours got $1,500. 



220 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

When the book was published, it had a fair sale, but when it was 
subsequently published in France, it was a critical and commercial 
sensation, and Horace McCoy not very well known here became 
an outstanding American writer there. My own impression is that his 
French success was one more example of old-style inverse anti- 
Americanism. To praise what was second-rate and brutal about 
America, like facile gangster films, was a way of patronizing. (It had 
its bitter consequent reversal in the current hatred among the French 
young for American brutality.) 

McCoy's French acclaim eventually echoed in this country, and his 
novel began to get overcompensatory critical attention in the U.S. I'm 
aware that some eminent French writers praised it highly. I don't 
know what those writers thought of James M. Cain, but my own view, 
like Edmund Wilson's, is that McCoy is notably inferior to Cain. 

Horses is precisely the kind of novel that a certain kind of deep- 
think movie mentality say, of the Joseph Str'ick-Savage Eye kind 
has always chafed to film and has used as a proof that Hollywood had 
no guts. It is both tricky and flat, but it nevertheless makes some 
effect by means of its typographical tricks and the author's consistent 
flat tone. The film fiddles with the original viewpoint it is not seen 
exclusively through the hero's eyes. It fiddles with the revelation of 
his partner's murder, in attempts to build up suspense. It inserts 
dubious new stuff and omits important matters. For instance, the 
pointless death of the girl is prefigured and prepared in the book by 
the even more senseless death of an old lady fan of hers, Mrs. Layden, 
who has been watching her from the stands. Mrs. Layden's murder 
is omitted from the screenplay. 

But the film's basic esthetic failure is in its texture something I've 
discussed previously in regard to other adaptations. Take this passage 
from the novel in which Mrs. Layden first appears: 

"Hello, Gloria," a voice said. 

We looked around. It was an old woman in a front row box seat by 
the railing . . . 

"Hello," Gloria said. 

"What was the matter down there?" the old woman asked. 

"Nothing," Gloria said. "Just a little argument." 

"How do you feel?" the old woman asked. 

"All right, I guess," Gloria replied. 



THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? 221 

"I'm Mrs. Layden," the old woman said. "You're my favorite couple." 
"Well, thanks," I said. 

That passage more than anything else in the book has stuck in my 
mind since I first read it some twenty-five years ago. "You're my 
favorite couple." Obscene and pathetic, both; and laid in there 
nakedly to resound on its own. In the film it becomes a warm little 
touch. And instead of the hypernaturalistic black-and-white tone of 
the prose, we get the golden glow of color, swirls, lights all the 
apparatus of punctured romance, instead of the bottom of a pit. 

The director, Sydney Pollack, has said, in an introduction to the 
published screenplay, that when the characters of a novel are put 
on a screen, they must be filled ha with action and dialogue so that 
they won't seem hollow. But the whole point of Gloria is that she 
should seem hollow. The filling-in, the provision of little climaxes 
and of switches to her viewpoint, make her an aggressive toughie, 
almost as if she were conscious of being tough in a movie. 

Jane Fonda plays the role, and readers may remember that I have 
been enthusiastic about her possibilities as actress ever since her film 
debut ten years ago. She has given some very good performances and 
some very lazy, absentminded ones since then. Here, in this italicized 
character, she supplies a cutting edge that at least gives it presence. 
She is made up and coiffured to look like a harpy in a Lynd Ward 
woodcut of the thirties, and she gets an effective ham relish out of her 
moral slumming. But there is a fundamental flaw, which Pollack has 
not caught: Miss Fonda plays this Texas-bora tramp with her own 
good Eastern finishing-school accent. She says "goddam" as if the 
term following were going to be "debutante's ball" instead of "dance 
marathon." 

Michael Sarrazin, the hero, is too obviously being promoted as a 
"sweet" successor to Henry Fonda to be credible as Gloria's partner 
in the lower depths. Red Buttons, attended as always by the 
stench of theatrical "heart," plays an aging sailor in the marathon 
and aids the air of naturalism very little. Susannah York is unbearable 
in the equally unbearable role of an English actress who enters the 
marathon hoping to attract producers in the stands. 

The only interesting character is the one that has been arranged for 
Gig Young, the promoter and MC; at least it has more than one note 
in it. Young plays it well, with good carny con, and is photographed 



222 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

not only to exploit his age but to distort his pleasant features clown- 
ishly. It's not a hard part, in fact it's a plum; but Young gives it an 
extra dimension: we feel he is allowing us a peek behind his own 
mask, the man who wanted to make it as a handsome film star, and 
didn't, and now is diving into character roles. He almost wallows in 
the ugliness of the part as he moves, in his own career, from a life 
long concern with looking pretty to the-hell-with-it candor. 

There is a lot of good thirties physical detail, but that's no problem 
if you have a big enough budget for research and re-creation. There's 
some by-now commonplace subjective use of the camera. What there is 
not is any reason for this film to exist. As a cross-section of American 
life, it's ridiculous. As a representative phenomenon, it's eccentric and 
badly dated. As an intrinsically moving story, it's nonexistent. Mc 
Coy's novel still has some grittiness, as if one were being dragged by 
the ankles over that dance floor, face down. But the visual texture 
of the film and the changes in the original shape transform what was 
pretty grim into something grimly pretty. 



Intimate Lighting 

(January 17, 1970) 

Intimate Lighting is a Czech film by Ivan Passer, made in 1965, 
that tries to answer the question: how much can be done interestingly 
with unexceptional domestic material? The answer is: a good deal 
because of Passer's sympathy and skill, the valid performances, and 
his absolute determination not to get excited. 

A cellist and his girl come to stay with a musician friend of his 
and the latter's family in a small town, to play in a concert there. The 
two men haven't seen each other hi some time, and they swap remi 
niscences as they view each other's present circumstances. The host's 
father makes his little lewd cracks about the visitor's girl, his old 
wife unburdens her secrets to the (charming) girl, and the whole 
atmosphere is beer and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik hi the parlor. 

There is a bit too much about burping and snoring, and there is an 
unfortunate sequence in which the girl encounters an actual village 



THE CIRCUS 223 

idiot which seems exploitive of the man. But, on the whole, this 
is a nice relaxing film made by people who understand a milieu, are 
just sufficiently sentimental about it, and can simply allow it to be. 



The Circus 

(January 24, 1970} 

I saw Charlie Chaplin's The Circus in 1928, the year it came out, and 
loved it. I saw it about twenty years later, at a private showing, and 
loved it. I saw it again recently, in its first commercial release in 
more than forty years, and loved it again. Obviously the "I" was vastly 
different each time. One proof of Chaplin's genius is that the same 
film, had the same fundamental effect on three different people, and 
this is not an egocentric proof because there must be millions who 
have had similar experiences with his pictures. But with The Circus, 
the experience is particularly striking even more touching because, 
with the last two viewings, I've known that it isn't one of Chaplin's 
very best. 

Naturally, that is strictly a relative statement. 

In this film the Tramp is hanging around sideshows, is chased by a 
cop, and flees into the main ring of a circus. The audience there, 
which was bored by the clowns, laughs heartily at this chase. The 
ringmaster-owner hires the Tramp to make him a clown, but the 
Tramp can't learn the traditional skits. He is fired, is again chased into 
the ring by a donkey and again convulses the audience. This time 
the wily ringmaster hires him as a prop man and arranges to have 
him chased into the ring at every performance. The Tramp is a hit 
but doesn't know it. The bareback rider, who is the daughter of the 
ringmaster and whom the Tramp loves, finally opens his eyes to his 
success. But when he learns that she is in love with someone else, 
the Tramp loses his ability to be funny. He brings the two lovers 
together, then lets the circus go on without him. 

The Circus is slim, and part of the slimness is purely dimensional 
it is Chaplin's shortest feature after The Kid. But there is also internal 
slimness: the story lacks drama and progression, and the supporting 



224 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

characters are not well-developed. The girl played by Merna Ken 
nedy, the most pallid of his leading ladies lacks the gamine vitality 
of the waif in Modern Times or the complexity of the dance hall girl 
in The Gold Rush. (I saw the latter again recently and noted once 
more how subtly Chaplin assumes that we know she is a prostitute, 
without ever saying so, and proceeds to build the Tramp's pathos on 
the substructure of that assumption.) The only mildly colorful char 
acter here is the ringmaster, the girl's father, who in some books is 
called her stepfather. His brutality to the girl is stock villainy, but Ms 
handling of the circus has cynical verity. 

Still, if The Circus lacks drama in its story, the dramatic structure 
of its comedy episodes is marvelous; and if the characters are thin, 
the thematic implications are not. 

As for the first, Chaplin only occasionally uses an isolated gag. For 
instance, when he is dusting things in the circus one day, he takes 
the magician's goldfish out of the bowl, wipes them off, and puts 
them back. But, for the most part, the comic incidents are part of a 
knitted structure that grows to considerable size from a quite small 
beginning. I'll trace one example. 

A pickpocket lifts a fat wallet and a watch from an old man in the 
sideshow crowd. The old man discovers the theft, and the pickpocket 
quickly shoves the stolen goods, unobserved, into the pocket of the 
Tramp, whose back is toward him. The starving Tramp is now (1) an 
innocent thief and (2) the unwitting possessor of the means to end 
his hunger. 

That is the simple beginning; now see what happens. In front of a 
hot dog stand, the Tramp steals bites of a hot dog held by a baby over 
his father's shoulder. This would be funny anyway, but we know 
that the Tramp has enough money in his pocket to buy the whole 
hot dog stand. While he is gazing longingly at the franks, the pick 
pocket approaches and tries to lift back the loot. This time a cop 
catches him with his hand in the Tramp's pocket and restores the loot 
to the "rightful" owner. 

Amazed at his luck, the Tramp orders about a dozen franks. While 
he waits, he pulls out "his" watch grandly and looks at the time just 
as the old man passes whose watch it really is. When the old man sees 
the Tramp also pull out his wallet, he calls a cop. The Tramp runs. 
Meanwhile the pickpocket has escaped from his cop. In a wonderful 
tracking shot the Tramp and the pickpocket run toward us side by 



THE CIRCUS 225 

side at full speed, each one with a cop behind him. Then the Tramp 
raises his hat to the pickpocket in salute, and they split in different 
directions. 

But they meet again in a funhouse to which they flee, where 
Chaplin hilariously mimics a life-size mechanical doll and where there 
are marvelous optical tricks in a mirror maze. (Did Orson Welles 
remember this scene when he made The Lady from Shanghai?) At 
last the cop chases him into the circus ring and, after further complica 
tions with a magician's apparatus, into a new life. The Tramp escapes, 
returns the wallet and watch en passant, then hides in a chariot and 
sleeps. Next day he is discovered and hired. 

All this exploded out of a tiny capsule: the pickpocket putting his 
loot in the Tramp's pocket. After that, all that was needed was the 
insanity of strict logic. But it is not "mere" logic, it is a dramatist's, 
including by implication everything that has gone before. The progress 
is not linear but cellular. 

The theme of the film is a contrast between life and art. The Tramp 
is funny as a man. He is unfunny when he tries to amuse in a circus 
skit. His funniness is hi his spontaneous being; consciousness kills it. 
There is one brief period during which he knows he is being funny, 
after the girl tells him he has been a hit for some time. With that 
confidence he can continue; but he loses that confidence as soon as he 
learns she doesn't love him, and he cannot "make" funny again. 

Chaplin was always fascinated with this confrontation of a funny 
man with a theatrical environment in which people are trying to make 
emotion. In one of his earliest shorts, A Film Johnnie (1914), he 
follows some actors into a studio and bursts open several contrived 
scenes with the reality of his being. In one of his last features, Lime 
light (1952), he is still concentrating on the dividing line between 
facing audiences with comic equipment and facing life with comic 
bravery. At the end of The Circus, in one of the loveliest shots hi any 
Chaplin film, he stands on the circus grounds as the wagons roll away 
one by one. Finally alone, he sits, and we see he is in the middle of a 
circle that was marked on the ground by the circus rings. The theater 
has once again become the world. 

Chaplin has added a score for this new release, which is adequate 
though full of sudden cutoffs, and he includes a song, sung by himself 
at the beginning "Swing, Little Girl" as Merna Kennedy dangles 
idly in a trapeze. In best kindness, let us say that the song is an echo of 



226 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

a bygone age. But then so is the courtliness with which he treats 
the girl he loves or the pickpocket from whom he's parting. So com 
plete is the magic with which this chivalry envelops him that it gives 
him a physical magic: his wing collar is always neat and clean whether 
he is in a circus, an alley, the Alaskan gold rush, or sleeping by a 
roadside. To my knowledge, no one has ever objected to the impos 
sibility of this haberdashery nor do I: which is one more proof of 
the persuasion of genius. We -want Chaplin to be as he is for our sakes, 
ducking with polite aplomb and clean collar the outstretched hand of 
the monster policeman of the universe. Hart Crane understood this. 
When he wrote "Chaplinesque," he spoke of Chaplin as "we": 

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk 
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb 
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us, 
Facing the dull squint with what innocence 
And what surprise! 



A Married Couple 

(January 31, 1970) 

RECENTLY I heard a remark made by the late Sidney Meyers, a gifted 
film maker: "Artists were too happy, so God invented film." God got 
his wish. Now look at the troubles, not only for artists but for audi 
ences. With every advance or benefit, there is at least one new prob 
lem. Look, for instance, at the nonfiction film. What a blessing it 
seems to be. What troublesome questions it raises. 

There are two principal kinds of nonfiction film: first, the kind in 
which the subjects are busily concentrating on something else fight 
ing a battle or running a steel mill or pole vaulting or in which 
they are unaware of being photographed because the shots are 
"stolen"; second, the kind in which the subjects are well aware of the 
camera's presence, in varying degrees of consciousness the kind now 
called cinema verite or direct cinema or actuality drama. 

Allan King, the Canadian who directed the unforgettable Warren- 
dale, about emotionally disturbed children, makes this latter land. 



A MARRIED COUPLE 227 

Here are the first two paragraphs of the publicity release on his latest 
picture: 

A Married Couple was filmed on location: the major part of it in the 
Toronto home of its stars, 42-year-old Canadian advertising man Billy 
Edwards and his American wife, Antoinette, 30, their three-year-old son, 
Bogart, and a dog named Merton. 

Cameraman Richard Leiterman and soundman Christian Wangler spent 
ten weeks in the Edwards' house, often from six o'clock in the morning 
until long after midnight, rarely talking to them, never eating with them 
nor becoming part of the family, but always observing, filming and record 
ing their daily life. The interior of the house had been entirely lit before 
shooting began, so the only other members of the film crew were director 
Allan King and an assistant cameraman. 

Immediately interesting. But, almost as immediately, a problem. 
Usual critical values (whatever one's may be) for fiction films or 
for "nonconscious" documentaries are secondary with A Married 
Couple. Primary are questions of psychology, society, image, and 
reality. The key word in the paragraphs quoted above is "stars." 
Much has already been written about changes in the concepts of 
privacy that cinema verite brings about. But now it's becoming clear 
that cinema verite is, to some degree, only recognizing changes that 
have already taken place. Several months ago I saw a TV interview 
with a sweepstakes winner, a lady who had spent her life tending her 
corner grocery for thirty years, with no hint of publicity or spotlight. 
Then her ticket won and the TV crew arrived and the reporter asked, 
"Mrs. Brown, how did it feel to win the sweepstakes?" She smiled and 
began in best celebrity-at-ease style, "Well, Ted . . ." 

Well, Ted . . ./ Like Sammy Davis, Jr. being Serious on the 
Johnny Carson Show. Mrs. Brown, citizen of a world soaked in 
film-TV consciousness, a world in which images of self are more a 
part of self than ever before in history, was instantly ready, even after 
thirty years in the shadows. How can the cameras of King and others 
intrude on the lives of people who are now waiting, not for Godot 
but for Godard? 

I met Allan King in New York while he was making this film. He 
spoke of it only briefly, saying that it was about a couple who might 
or might not break up, he didn't know. I didn't ask but couldn't 
help wondering which he was hoping for; which the couple were 



228 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

hoping for; what effect the camera would have on their decision, how 
they would decide to play it. And yet, of course, play it for real. 

The meat of this film is daily life: the baby, the car, the job, the 
cycles of small-quarrel-and-reconciliation, the larger differences that 
are left unsolved on screen. Seventy hours of film were edited down 
to ninety-seven minutes, but even so there are longueurs. Unlike the 
subject of Warrendale, most of married life is not dramatic. If King 
had cut only to the most dramatic moments, he would have falsified 
his rendition of a marriage. Some tedium is of the essence of his 
method, and it helps the sense of eavesdropping. 

But that sense is by no means consistent throughout. Part of the 
time I forgot I was watching people who knew there was a camera 
present; the reality became the same as in a credible fiction film. 
But part of the time I was aware that they were camera-conscious, 
either because they glanced at it or because their actions and language 
took on a touch of bravado, as when the language became salty in an 
almost studied way. (This also happened in Salesman, by the Maysles 
brothers.) 

There are moments in filmgoing when what I am chiefly curious 
about is the process of filming. With most skin flicks, I would much 
rather spend five minutes in the studio watching the amatory couple 
get ready for a take, with electricians and grips and cameramen bus 
tling about, than see the final take in CinemaScope. There were similar 
moments in this film for instance, a sequence in which the couple 
are in bed together at night and he teases her into having sex with 
him. The teasing begins to work. End of sequence. I wanted to know 
what had happened there, before and after. How did they get to feel 
free enough to do this at all? I wanted to see the crew and King, as 
much as the couple. What happened when she began to yield? Did 
they wait for King and the crew to depart? Or not? 

Much of the time there seems to be a threefold level of conscious 
ness in the Edwards couple: awareness of the camera, sporadic for 
getting of its presence, and then an adjusted awareness the stages 
one goes through with, say, the hum of an air-conditioner. This three 
fold awareness is particularly striking in such a sequence as the one 
where they talk about their desire to be famous this obscure couple 
sitting in their modest Toronto house, wishing they could be famous, 
at the very moment they are starring in a Technicolor movie. But 
some of the best sequences seem to me to be singlefold, when camera- 



M*A*S*H 229 

consciousness at any level is imperceptible. (This, too, was true of 
Salesman.) There is a quiet scene in which their big old dog is lying 
on their bed. Edwards stands next to the bed for a moment, looking 
at him, then throws himself down face to face with the dog and 
simply stares at him. A bit of silence; then cut. 

Here, as in Warrendale, King's direction consisted only of his 
choice of material, his personal reticence, and his editing which 
leaves out a great deal that is usually subsumed under direction. It is 
on the first count that he showed his most acute cinematic instinct 
not so much by his faith in the interest of the Edwardses' lives as, 
quite specifically, the interest of their faces. At first view, neither of 
those faces is particularly appealing, and I felt, "Do we have to watch 
them for an hour and a half?" Through the course of the film, her 
face became witty, lovely, quite homely, silly, and sad, a much greater 
range than it promised. His rather unassembled face, made up of 
features that don't seem really to go together, took on an organic 
entity; the camera assembled it for him, over a period of time. This is 
by no means automatically true of most faces, which often seem to 
recede under prolonged scrutiny. King's faith in the way these two 
faces would bloom, cinematically, is his subtlest achievement here. 

Is it a good film? For me, the only answer is that some of it satisfied 
my instinct for snooping, some of it dragged, some of it seemed 
tacitly conspiratorial between the Edwards couple and the camera. 
But in the circumstances it is surely pertinent to ask whether it was a 
good film for this couple. They overcame their marital difficulties 
pro tern, anyway and now have a second child. They are said to be 
lonely without the presence of the camera and the lights (which 
were strong enough for color photography). If so, they are only being 
honest about what is implicit in our society. Nowadays we're all on 
camera, Ted. 



M*A*S*H 

(January 31, 1970} 

WE'VE had black humor, and will continue to have it; but now we 
also get red humor. Laughs and I mean side-splitting laughs in 



230 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

the middle of spurting blood. M*A*S*H is the Army abbreviation 
for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. (The inserted asterisks are Film 
land's own Hyman Kaplan touch.) This comedy takes place in a 
military hospital three miles behind the lines of the war. Which war? 
You remember the one we dropped in there between World Wax n 
and Vietnam. What was it again? Korea. Right. Some 33,000 Ameri 
can battle deaths, but it slides past 

The script was written by Ring Lardner, Jr., from a novel by 
Richard Hooker, reportedly a pseudonym for a well-known surgeon. 
The tenor is familiar service comedy about grifters having a good 
time amidst the gore, except that these surgeons and orderlies and 
nurses are really amidst the gore, which we constantly see, and are 
joking and making dates while they remove shrapnel from hearts or 
saw blithely away on the useless legs of patients who are always just 
out of sight. And why is it funny? Because the doctors are sane and 
are remaining sane; they are not laughing to keep back the tears. First, 
they are surgeons (and we all remember what Freud says about 
them); second, they are professionals; third, they are powerless to 
alter their world; fourth, even if they can't alter it, they still believe in 
the life on which their world is spitting, and they spit right back by 
saving life, if they can, ligjitheartedly. 

Some of the gags are soggy and protracted and stale sort of 
Catch-2,222. The first few minutes almost drove me out of the 
theater. A later football game between two medical units is TV 
comedy at its hokiest (except for the language) . But much of the rest, 
even the usual sex jokes with nurses, is unusually funny. The language 
is rough and true, the humor is quick, the acting is good revue-sketch 
Ping-Pong, and the editing is generally ahead of us by the requisite 
shade of a second. 

Elliott Gould, of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, is a heart surgeon 
here possibly the most amusing heart surgeon ever. Donald Suther 
land, who was an English lord in the abominable Joanna, is a likeable 
shuffling, ugly fellow-doc. Roger Bowen is winningly impotent as 
the CO. A girl named Jo Ann Pflug plays Lieutenant Dish, and 
rightly so. Robert Altman, who has directed a lot of television and a 
few films that I have not seen, has handled most of the action with fine 
impertinence and brisk pacing. 

It could be Vietnam as well as Korea, and of course it really is 
Vietnam as well. If there are parents and sisters and wives who object 



THE MILKY WAY 231 

to jokes about the atmosphere in which their men are being treated, 
these doctors seem to say, "Do something about it, then. As long as 
you keep on being the silent majority, we're going to keep on whistling 
while we work." 



The Milky Way 

(February 7, 

NOT much in art is more pleasant than the sight of an old artist con 
tinuing to grow. Most old artists even great ones repeat, or lose 
their creative vigor, or maunder, or quit. But some keep growing 
almost as if their previous careers had led purposefully to their last 
years for instance, Verdi, Ibsen, and Yeats. Equality of stature aside, 
this is what seems to be happening with Luis Bunuel. He is now seventy 
and has announced his retirement more than once but has kept work 
ing; and of his last three films, all made since 1965, two are the best 
Bunuel that I know. The exception is Belle de Jour, which, though 
it was sumptuous, showed his old weakness for aggrandized sensa 
tion masquerading as meaning. But the forty-two-minute film made 
the year before that, Simon of the Desert, is a masterly little work of 
religious irony and religious spirit; and now comes another religious 
film, The Milky Way, which is even better. It is another parable of 
Christianity, but it is free of Christ parallels (Nazariri), of sterile and 
protracted allegory (The Exterminating Angel), of shallow Evil-as- 
travail-toward-Good (El) . The structure of this new film is taut and 
well-modeled, the interplay between idea and image is delightful, the 
whole work is funny and bitter and peculiarly devout from beginning 
to end. 

In essence, The Milky Way is a symbolic history of the Roman 
Catholic Church in Europe, told in terms of its progress through 
heresies and schisms. (A postscript guarantees that every theological 
reference in the film is exact.) The title itself is a kind of celestial 
pun: the constellation that we call the Milky Way is also known in 
Europe, it seems, as the Road of St. James. Two present-day tramps, 
a young man and an old, are taking that road on earth. They start 



232 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

from Paris on foot to visit the tomb of the Apostle James in Spain 
at Santiago de Compostela (St. James of the Field of Stars). They are 
just tramps, not particularly religious, and their choice of destination 
seems more happenstance than zeal. En route they meet a number 
of odd people and are involved in a lot of strange incidents, some of 
which take place in earlier historical periods and all of which they 
accept without amazement, simply with varying degrees of interest. 
Each of these encounters dramatizes an important heresy or theo 
logical dispute in Church history, and almost all of them are handled 
wittily. One instance out of many: the tramps see a fierce duel be 
tween two eighteenth-century gentlemen, but it is not an affair of honor 
or the heart; one duelist is a Jansenist, the other a Jesuit, and as they 
lunge and parry, they exchange arguments about the nature of divine 
grace. 

Interwoven with the story of the tramps' pilgrimage are Gospel 
episodes, with Jesus and Mary and the Apostles. The tramps never 
meet the Holy Family, but there is a near miss. At the end, on the 
outskirts of Santiago, the two men encounter a prostitute (who was 
prophesied to them), and she tells them that the town is empty of 
pilgrims because the body in the crypt has been proved to be the here 
tic Priscillian, not St. James. So instead of proceeding into town, they 
take the woman into the woods to frolic with her. The camera pans 
from them to two blind men moving through the same woods who 
soon meet Jesus and his disciples. Jesus restores their sight "according 
to their faith." The point is obvious. The tramps are merely amiable 
earthly travelers and "see" nothing; the two blind men have faith 
and "see" Jesus, who gives them back their earthly eyes. But the 
point is made painlessly. 

The film is as well made as Bunuel's pictures have often not al 
ways been. Occasionally he still lets people walk out of shots, leav 
ing us to stare for a second at empty places where the action was; 
and occasionally there is a meaningless emphasis (like a close shot 
of the wheels of a railroad train arriving in Tours). But for the most 
part there is discretion, the sense of a mordant eye, and the overall 
feeling of flow that we get even in lesser films like Viridiana and 
The Diary of a Chambermaid. The color photography of Christian 
Matras is lovely, and Bunuel has made special use of it in the cos 
tuming of the Gospel scenes. Jesus and the others in those episodes are 
all dressed in solid but soft colors, suggesting what the colors hi Piero 



THE MILKY WAY 233 

della Francesca's frescoes at Arezzo might have been before they 
faded, which contrast with the complicated chromatic patterns of 
the latter-day clothes. Bunuel has not forgotten to include some of his 
hallmarks: a dwarf; a close-up of metal penetrating flesh here we get 
spikes through the hands of a nun begging to be crucified, instead of 
the customary knife. Even these matters, though, are handled with un 
usual restraint. 

But the superiority of this film, like that of Simon, is not in the 
filming as such but in the script. (Incidentally, the cast of Simon in 
cludes two palmers pilgrims from Santiago de Compostela, so the 
subject has evidently been haunting BunueFs mind.) It is Bunuel the 
author, more than the auteur, who has made The Milky Way the fine 
work that it is. He has written or collaborated on the scripts of most 
of his films, and he has worked in three languages Spanish, French, 
and English. This picture is in French, and he had the assistance of 
Jean-Claude Carriere, who collaborated on some of his previous 
films made in France. After one has enumerated the various ele 
ments in the script of wit, slyness, compassion, and human bewilder 
ment, there is left the central and controlling vision; and the source 
of that vision is to me the most interesting and revealing aspect of 
the film. It is the artistic concept with which Bunuel began his film 
career, from which he has often divagated, and to which he has re 
cently returned to use with a new depth and power the concept of 
Surrealism. 

Some years ago Bunuel said: 

It was Surrealism which showed me that life has a moral direction which 
man cannot but follow. For the first time I understood that man was not 
free. I already believed in the total liberty of man, but in Surrealism I 
found a discipline to follow. It was a great lesson in my life. It was also 
a great step forward into the marvelous and the poetic. 

That dialectic between liberty and discipline, resulting in a synthesis 
that is "marvelous and poetic," has an analogue for Bunuel, I think 
in the dialectic between God and Church, the synthesis of which is 
in Simon and The Milky Way. His vision of religion is a Surrealist 
one. 

The term "Surrealism" was first used by Guillaume Apollinaire in 
1917, but the famous definition was made by Andre Breton in 1924. 



234 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

In the first of several manifestoes on the subject, Breton said: "I be 
lieve in the future resolution of the states of dream and reality, in 
appearance so contradictory, in a sort of absolute reality, or sw- 
realite, if I may so call it." Bunuel was early associated with the 
Surrealist group in Paris. Salvador Dali collaborated on his first two 
films, Un Chien Andalou and UAge d*Or. Bunuel's photograph is in a 
Max Ernst collage of members of the group (1930), and the 
cool razor-eyeball sadism of BunuePs first film is antedated by the 
cool finger-piercing of Ernst's painting Oedipus Rex, done in 1922. 
(Ernst himself is in UAge d'Or.) Today Bunuel's Surrealist view 
rests on a more sophisticated and mature base than the juxtaposition 
of incongruous objects and acts. Dead donkeys on pianos or cows 
on beds no longer serve as adequate manifests of dream-reality. 
True, The Milky Way scrambles historical periods, refuses to explain 
how a priest can be inside and outside a bedroom at the same time, 
and has sweet little schoolgirls fulminating anathema, but these 
concretized fantasies do not exist merely to shock and stimulate and 
invigorate our protocols of vision. Underlying them is a philosophic 
vision that is itself Surrealist: a vision that lifts the history of the 
Church off the ground into one grand condensation and sustains it 
through an idea of faith that is larger than any pettifogging theological 
pedantry. Bunuel is no longer interested in extending consciousness 
through a series of visual puns and oxymorons, however cruelly scin 
tillating, for which the scenario seems almost an afterthought and jus 
tification. With The Milky Way the process seems reversed. In his 
old age Bunuel has come back to Surrealism with greater purity, with 
a deeper perception of liberty through discipline. He has begun this 
picture with a very clear, almost programmatic dream reality, a sur 
real conviction, and the visual metaphors proceed firmly from it. 

As the two tramps, Laurent Terzieff and Paul Frankeur are ami- 
able and easy. Like many directors outside the United States, Bunuel 
has been able to use prominent and accomplished actors in quite 
small parts, which gives his film a fine-grained detail that is often 
lacking in American films. (And for those who know those actors' 
faces, it also provides another level of intra-cinema pleasure.) Some 
of the brief appearances: Michel Piccoli as the Marquis de Sade, 
Alain Cuny as a mysterious prophet, Pierre dementi as the Devil, 
Claudio Brook (who played the title role in Simon) as a bishop. 



PATTON 235 

Mien Guiomar as a country priest, and Delphine Seyrig as the pros 
titute. 

I saw The Milky Way at a screening that was largely attended by 
Catholic religious, and I happened to sit next to two priests. When 
the film finished, Priest One turned to Priest Two and said, "Mad." 
Priest Two nodded and said, "Mad." I think that Bunuel, a life 
long heretic-devotee, would have been tickled. 



Patton 

(March 7, 1970) 

THE astonishing achievement in Patton is that of the producers, Frank 
McCarthy and Franklin J. Schafiner. Not so much for anything in 
the picture, although there are some very good things in it, but for 
the foresight to make it and for being able to coax up the money 
when they did. A large-scale film like this one, with many locations 
and tons of equipment and hundreds of complicated effects and hun 
dreds of people to transport, has to be planned at least three years 
before the public gets to see it. This means that the decision to pro 
duce Patton was made no later than early 1967. Lyndon Johnson 
was President; sentiment against the Vietnam war seemed on the rise; 
the press was full of protest. Sentimental patriotics and adulation of 
the military were not exactly filling the air. Yet that was when Mc 
Carthy and Schaffner began. Through the intervening thirty-six 
months, the production has traveled like a space missile seemingly 
headed nowhere that gradually zeroes in more and more accurately 
on its target and now Patton has landed right on the bull's-eye: the 
age of Nixnew. The time of the silent majority. 

Fortuitous or not, it is wonderful timing. I can't remember anything 
as opportune since the publication of Cameron Hawley's novel Execu 
tive Suite about the virtues of big business just after Eisenhower's 
first election. For a lot of years, that silent majority has been hungry 
for pictures like Patton, with a hunger that a picture like The Green 
Berets (though it made money) could not really satisfy. Here is a 



236 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

film that is made carefully, photographed superbly, and directed 
generally well, with an irresistible performance in the leading role, 
marvelous battle effects and above all an air of intelligent candor. 
It seems to say, "All right, now, we've had enough of this bellyaching. 
War is in us and we might as well face it. The urge to kill hell, the 
enjoyment of it is in us, so let's not kid ourselves. And at the risk 
of sounding corny what's so damned wrong with a lump in the 
throat at the sight of the American flag?" Perfect. I saw Patton in a 
large theater with a large audience. The very first shot is an Ameri 
can flag in vivid color rilling the wide, wide screen. Some defiant ap 
plause. Then out steps General Patton, minute against the immense 
banner, and I felt the audience lunge toward him with relief. Every 
thing was all right again, the old values were safe. Before Patton 
had finished his address to his new soldiers (which is the prologue 
to the film), profane, soldierly, paternal, tough, before the picture 
had really begun, it was a solid hit. 

McCarthy and Schafiner had either prescience or blind luck. But, 
keeping an anchor to windward, they subtitled then* film "A Salute to 
a Rebel." (Patton's rebellion consisted of being more militaristic 
than the military!) They commissioned a screenplay by Francis Ford 
Coppola and Edmund H. North that emphasizes the contradictions 
in their hero. Patton is well read hi military history and has a sense 
of the past, he believes that his soul has transmigrated through the 
great wars of history, he writes and quotes poetry, he speaks French 
fluently, and he is a gourmet. (The only "humane" touch omitted is 
the fact that he vomited when he saw a German concentration camp.) 
Also included is the Patton who wished he could give medals to 
the daring German pilots who had just bombed a lot of his men to 
pieces, who confesses that he loves visiting a battlefield where men 
lie dead, who slaps a soldier hospitalized with battle fatigue (thus 
maiming his own career), and who shoots two donkeys that are a 
peasant's property because they are holding up a military advance 
(the incident used in Hersey's A Bell For Adano). All these contra 
dictions present Patton as a complex man, which he undoubtedly 
was. The picture asks our praise for that fact, for not presenting him 
as a monochrome comic-book swashbuckler. What it omits is that 
most men are complex, and that some complex men are more admi 
rable than others. 

The chronicle follows Patton's ups and downs from the Kasserine 



PATTON 237 

Pass in 1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. Franklin 
Schaffner also directed the film, and has done it surprisingly well. 
There was little in The Best Man and much less in Planet of the Apes 
to suggest the sureness and the comprehension of spectacle that he 
shows here. Patton is not remotely epical in the sense of Jancso's 
The Red and the White: there is no grasp of the currents of history, 
only a compilation of spectacular events in chronological order; but 
SchafEner handles them vigorously. He repeats some cinematic ideas: 
over and over he begins a grim sequence with pretty objects: a shot 
through a field of waving flowers before we move up to an ambulance, 
a shot of snow-covered trees before we pan to soldiers advancing 
across a white field. Occasionally there is a long shot at a moment 
when Patton is saying something important, and the importance is 
diminished even though the words are heard. But for the most part 
Schaffner has kept his film vigorous, varied, and tight. And he has 
provided an implicit commentary on the juxtaposition of two cultures 
by getting the most out of the locales through which Patton moves 
North African buildings, a Sicilian chapel, a Corsican villa, a French 
chateau, a London apartment, among others. All these tell us some 
thing about the continent that is being fought over, in contrast with 
the man who is leading part of the fighting. 

For this, and more, Schaffner is indebted to his cinematographer, 
Fred Koenekamp, who shot the film in a new wide-screen process 
called Dimension 150, which articulates every plane and reproduces 
every color faithfully. The score by Jerry Goldsmith is banal. 

George C. Scott, as Patton, is truly commanding, fulfilling the 
hard, manic streak that was apparent in him years ago when he was 
playing Richard III and Jaques and Shylock for Joseph Papp in 
New York. Scott was never shy of self-confidence and now he has 
brought up additional power to support it. His voice has hoarsened 
rather than mellowed through his career, but, in the latency of ex 
plosion with which an actor makes us pleasantly nervous, he is the 
most remarkable star since Brando. Karl Maiden is, once again, un 
interesting as General Bradley. (Bradley himself was military adviser 
on the film.) All the British and German commanders except Rom 
mel are portrayed as noodles. 

The violence in this film is a very different matter from the violence 
in, say, Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch. Patton is about a 
man whose profession is to get other people to act as vicars for his 



238 FIGURES OF LIGHT 



violent urges, and it makes a clear point that it presumably did not 
intend. For generals, peace is hell. 



(March 14, 1970) 

MICHELANGELO Antonioni, one of the finest artists in film history, has 
made a mistake. I want to hazard some guesses about why he made 
it, to investigate the relevance of this mistake to current film and 
to art generally, all of which seem more important to me than his 
new film itself, but first some comment on ZabrisJde Point. 

As everyone must know by now, it is set in the United States. 
Mark, a young radical, meets Daria in the Southern California 
desert. He is fleeing the Los Angeles police, who think that he shot 
a policeman at a college protest. She, although temperamentally a 
swinger, is working at the moment as a secretary in Los Angeles and 
is driving to Phoenix, where her boss is having a business conference 
in his desert home. Mark, who has stolen a plane in L.A., runs out 
of gas after he has teasingly buzzed Dana's car. She arrives where 
he has landed and agrees to give him a lift to get more gas. En route 
they reach Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, the site of ancient lake- 
beds, now a frozen heaving sea of borates and gypsum. There, after 
some talk, they make love. 

Later that day, he flies back to return the plane in Los Angeles. 
(When she says it is risky, he says, "I want to take risks.") The 
waiting police kill the presumed cop killer, who actually is innocent, 
when he doesn't stop taxiing promptly. Daria hears the news on her 
car radio. She arrives at her boss's house but very soon leaves. She 
stops and looks back at the luxurious house, and in her mind she sees 
it explode, over and over again, its contents floating dreamily in space. 
Then she drives out of the last shot, leaving us to look at the sun 
in the west. 

The script is the work of the director and Tonino Guerra, who has 
collaborated on all of Antonioni's best films. Here, instead of the as 
sistance they have sometimes had from other Italian writers, they 



ZABRISKIE POINT 239 

had the help of the young American playwright Sam Shepard, the 
American radical journalist Fred Gardner, and Clare Peploe, an Eng 
lish young lady who was a production assistant on Blow-Up. The 
fundamental trouble with the film is the script, and the trouble with 
the script is that it does indeed seem the collaboration of all these 
people. Blow-Up was written by Antonioni and Guerra (one ger 
minal device was taken from a story by Julio Cortazar), and then 
was put into English by the young English playwright Edward Bond, 
but it was essentially an Antonioni-Guerra product. That does not 
seem to have happened here. The script seems the outcome of a 
poll, taken among all the collaborators, as to what would represent 
youthful dissent and revolution in America today. The result is like 
a checklist, accurate enough, but it could be almost anyone's check 
list. And the story rests on tenets of revolution which may or may 
not be valid but which here are rather grossly assumed, not drama 
tized. 

Antonioni's critics have called him a tourist, yet this film, does 
not seem to me even a good tourist's notebook. These are not his 
"notes," they do not have the mark of his personality, as his "notes" 
about London had in Blow-Up. What is primarily missing here is not 
conviction of idea he may well be convinced about the force of 
radical youth and the need for their revolution but confidence as 
artist. He is like an actor playing a role in a foreign language who 
has learned his lines phonetically. 

In Blow-Up the result was quite different, even though he knew 
less English then than he knows now, because the picture was an 
expression of a life view that was centrally his. The London photog 
rapher was involved in a mystery of existence that also involved 
Antonioni. There is no equivalent feeling in the new film. Nothing in 
these two characters resonates anything that we feel to be truly his; and 
no "montage" of their characters creates a third force that represents 
him. 

Constantly, we feel him trying to connect with the film, to supply 
"characteristic" touches, with which he can lay claim to the work. 
The uncertainty about whether Mark really shot the policeman at the 
beginning is Antonioni's enforced ambiguity, made mechanically by 
cutting away; later, Mark tells Daria plainly, "I never got off a shot." 
The disappearance of Anna in UAvventura was her disappearance, 
not anyone's device. This business of the policeman is a strained 



240 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

effort to lend ambiguity to a bald story. Daria visits a desert hamlet 
en route to Phoenix to see a friend who has brought some under 
privileged L.A, children out there for rehabilitation. She never finds 
her friend, but she does meet the children, who change from little 
scamps to little demons. But the change seems manufactured, the 
supposedly haunting air of evil seems to have been blown in by a 
wind machine. When Mark and Daria make love at Zabriskie Point, 
their intercourse is "amplified" by the sudden appearance of groups 
of other young people making various kinds of love until there is a 
landscape of passion imposed on the dead terrain; but it is imposed. 
Antonioni has said that the fantasy is in Daria's mind, making love 
just after having smoked pot, but there is no ground for this in what 
we see (in contrast to her explosion fantasy at the end). It seems 
merely a strained effort at imagination. 

There are beautiful moments. Not the shots of the desert, well done 
though they are, because the desert is a subject that a cinematog- 
rapher like Alfio Contini could hardly fumble. I mean such moments 
as the shot from a helicopter that spirals down next to the grounded 
plane in which the dead Mark is lying, surrounded by police cars; 
it is like the descent to earth of a snared spirit There is a shot of 
Daria's boss in his high office, with a huge flag billowing outside his 
window and another skyscraper beyond it, so good in itself that it 
goes past obvious satire to a poignant statement of slick, barren 
"office" civilization. A highway patrolman stops Daria in the desert 
(he thinks she is alone; Mark is hiding), and after she has made an 
impertinent reply to a routine question of his, he looks all around the 
huge solitude slowly, presumably toying with the idea of ravishing this 
luscious, irritating piece then gets back in his car. His long pause 
is one of the few truly implicative moments in the film. When Daria 
imagines the explosions of her boss's house at the end, the first of 
those explosions is silent an excellent touch which adds to the 
shock and which acts as the necessary bridge into her fantasy. And 
the shots of things floating slowly materials, not people, because 
the enemy is things are nicely sardonic. 

But scenes that are supposed to be more directly sardonic, more 
sharply critical of materialism business conferences, TV real estate 
commercials with mannequins that live All-American lives are 
so blatant that they boomerang. They do not expose the hollowness 
of the culture but the insecurity of the artist who wants to expose 



ZABRISKIE POINT 241 

the culture. His disgust is superficial, and his means of expressing 
it are trite. Compare these business sequences with the stock exchange 
sequences in Eclipse, which I saw again recently and which grows in 
stature. Those hectic stock-trading scenes are distillations of the cul 
ture in which they occur, not self-limited, not cartoons but the essence 
of power and sex drives as they pass through a revealing flame, 
grotesque ballets danced against impotence. We see humanity re 
vealed there by the dehumanizing process itself. But the business 
scenes in Zabriskie Point seem the work of a sophomore who has 
never been near such a meeting; they have no touch of the human 
reality that makes their banality and their pompously disguised 
greed so terrible. 

Antonioni's insecurity extends to his selection of the two leading 
performers. He has chosen two unknowns, two nonactors, Daria 
Halprin and Mark Frechette, neither of whom grows during our two- 
ihoiir acquaintance. The dialogue assigned them is both sparse and 
generally tinny, and neither of them has the personality, let alone 
the talent, to fill out the gaps of silence or the flatness of locution. 
Antonioni has done some bad casting in his career for instance, 
Richard Harris in Red Desert, Betsy Blair in // Grido but this is the 
Jirst time he has used completely inexperienced people in leading 
roles. Here it is not so much that he has cast badly; it is more that 
he seems to have lost faith in the processes of art, has relied on the 
fact of youth to supply the truth of youth. This use of nonactors, as 
the best of neorealism has shown, can sometimes work, but hardly 
when the director is a stranger in a strange land, literally and figura 
tively. 

From the choice of Death Valley as a symbol of American civiliza 
tion, to the inclusion of gag signs on barroom walls to the shots of 
garish billboards, this film sticks to the surface, stranded. 

How did it happen? When an artist of AntonionTs magnitude 
makes a mistake like this, more must be done than merely to note it. 
Zabriskie Point is not just lesser than his best work, as Blow-Up 
is lesser than UAvventura; it is hardly recognizable as his work, or as 
a development from it. Those of us who have loved his art cannot 
help wondering what happened. 

Writing about Blow-Up three years ago, I surmised that the defects 
of that (far superior) film were attributable to the fact that Antoni- 



242 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

oni was a stranger in London, and I expressed concern that this 
highly societal artist had just announced plans to make his next film 
hi another strange society, the United States. But even in London he 
was more at ease than in America. Britain is still Europe, whatever 
the British say, and if Antonioni was in a foreign country (where 
in fact he had worked before, to make a part of / Vinti), it was one 
with some affinities for any European and some direct cultural con 
nections. ("Linking our England to his Italy," said Browning.) In 
England, Antonioni was able to translate Antonioni into English. There 
is no such translation in Zabriskie Point, even though he is here 
trying to speak like an American, trying to comment from within. I 
know that he has denied this intent, that he has claimed only to be 
an observer, but the film stands apart and contradicts him: it pur 
ports to be speaking knowledgeably from the center of American 
social turmoil. If it were intended as an outsider's observations, why 
would he have needed the assistance of Fred Gardner, why would 
he have needed more from Sam Shepard than translation? (Shepard 
has said that he put in the scene with the children "and some other 
scenes.") 

What impelled Antonioni to this "impersonation"? It is a common 
place that the most difficult part of an artist's life these days is not 
to achieve good works or recognition but to have a career: to live 
a life in art, all through one's life. Since the beginning of the Roman 
tic era and the rise of subjectivism, the use of synthesis in art of 
selecting from both observation and direct experience, then imagina 
tively rearranging the results has declined among serious artists, 
until by now art has taken on some aspects of talented diary-keeping. 
(The most obvious examples are "confessional" poetry and "action" 
painting.) An artist's life and internal experience have become more 
and more circumscribedly his subject matter, and his willingness to 
stay within them has become almost a touchstone of his validity. 
This has led to the familiar phenomenon of the quick depletion of 
resources all those interesting first and second works, and the sad, 
straggling works that follow them. The question is further compli 
cated because the more sensitive a man is, the more affected he is in 
our time by the Great Boyg, the presence of the monster, which 
increases his sense of helplessness, of inability to deal with such 
experience as he does have. 

But he must work, because for him working and living are congru- 



ZABRISKIE POINT 243 

ent. He is (in this case) in his mid-fifties, in supreme technical com 
mand of his medium. At the moment, let us say, he feels drained of 
inner resources. This feeling of attrition is emphasized by contrast 
with some people around him who are not drained and who, artists 
or not, have vitality and address. They are the radical, dissident 
young of the world. They make him envious. Not so much to be 
young again, or to be as virile as he was at twenty-one those en 
vies apply to anyone. He is mainly envious of their surety and moral 
energy. He is experienced enough in politics to doubt salvation 
through politics; he is acute enough morally to see the dubiousness of 
youthful moral absolutism; nevertheless, he is envious of their beings. 
And, possibly, he tells himself that what he needs is to shift from a 
generally pessimistic view which has been the fundamental view of 
most serious artists in the last century and a half to a participatory 
and expectant view, at least as a motor device. His first move is to 
Blow-Up, in which the protagonist and the ambience are young but 
the center of which is mature, a view down the perspective of some 
years. With Zabriskie Point, the exponents and the center are intended 
to be young. 

Helping to expedite this shift is the special relation between this 
artist's medium film and the young. There is no art that excites 
them as much, no art that seems to belong more surely to them and 
their era. A lot of young people's attitudes and assumptions are cul 
turally questionable and potentially harmful to film itself but, 
incontrovertibly, those attitudes exist. So the temptation for a film di 
rector, of all artists, to take youth not only as subject but as creed is 
stronger than it might be for a novelist or a dramatist. 

Another contributing factor follows from this: Antonioni's suc 
cess and the pressures that attend film success. The problem here 
is not in declining to do compromised work, although I'm reliably 
informed that a few years ago Antonioni refused a million dollars to 
direct someone else's script. The problem is that he is wanted, that the 
production money which most directors find difficult to get is his 
almost for the asking. This is a strong drug for any director, particu 
larly for a man who spent many years starving and scratching and 
hacking and begging, in order to get the chance to work as he pleased. 
At last he has power, and he is pressed to use that power by people 
who now want "product" from him. Here are some possible con 
sequences: he works before he is ready to, and he spends more money 



244 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

than he needs to. And perhaps by an unconscious chain of associa 
tion, he proceeds to the place from which the money stems, as the 
source of both empowerment and conflict; and, to display fidelity 
to his principles, he makes a picture attacking the system that pro 
duced the money with which he is making the attack. 

Political action has not been a real concern of Antonioni's films 
since 11 Grido. (The strikers in Red Desert, the antibomb marchers 
in B tow-Up, were only elements of the environment.) For a man 
of his philosophical temperament I say this carefully politics 
seemed to have become increasingly superficial, at least as a subject 
hi art. Now his use of the rhetoric of revolution seems an escape, an 
emollient for a fever of frustration, a way of seeming to come face 
to face with root troubles in men, something that only the best poli 
tical philosophers can do through politics and for which political 
activists can't afford the subtlety, even when they have it at their dis 
posal. 

With at least some glimmer of the need for political change in our 
society, I still suggest that, for Antonioni, the political gesture of 
this film may not be much more than a kind of personal therapy. It 
may be an attempt to exorcise a guilt for having been politically 
quiescent in his recent work, just as the whole film may be an at 
tempt to exorcise a guilt about being middle-aged. Assuming that 
these guilts exist, I suggest that the first one is irrelevant in an artist 
of his depth, and the second is a kind of senility in reverse, a con 
tradiction of his own genuine and appropriate vigor. 

All the above, I think, are matters that may have contributed to 
the mistake of Antonioni's new film. What will happen now? I hope 
he returns to Italy, to work. Besides the obvious fact of the familiar 
language, there is the para-language, the things that need not be 
said between people who understand each other easily; and he will 
also understand societal language again. I need not repeat how 
beautifully I think he has used that language hi his Italian films. And 
again he will have the chance to be alone, to reside within himself, 
something that is very difficult for a man in a foreign country, who 
usually feels isolated and ignorant unless he is continually trying to 
join. 

Youth may continue to interest him. Why shouldn't it? But if he 
sees it through his own eyes, out of the core of his own society, he will 
have more to say to all of us, including Americans, than by trying 



ZABRISKIE POINT 245 

to be a surrogate American youth. How badly we need the best of 
Antonioni. On past evidence, all he needs to do is to be Antonioni 
again, unafraid of his doubts and his solitude. In the career of this 
superlative artist, Zabriskie Point can only be the occasion for gravest 
concern and affectionate hope. 

POSTSCRIPT. This review drew a number of disagreeing letters from 
young readers, who argued for the film in terms of its subject matter. 
These letters reminded me that there really are such young people as 
Mark and Daria, that alienation and dissent are all that is possible 
for them, that nonactors symbolize the nonparticipation of such 
young people, that there are similarities between young people hi 
Los Angeles and Rome. These letters depressed me, for two reasons. 
First, in replying to them, I had once more to go over what I take 
to be the failure of an artist of major stature. Second, they heightened 
my concern that some young people are so anxious to find evidence 
of dissent in films that they magnify the virtues of any film that deals 
with the subject. This latter leads to the, I think, still enormously 
important matter of the corruption of taste, which means the corrup 
tion of values and thus the debasement of the very humanity that 
concerns these young people. Further, if any picture favoring young 
radicals or dropouts is welcome, this opens doors wide for the most 
opportunistic and cynical of Establishment exploiters. Most import 
ant, it leads to myopia about the validity of dissent itself. 

Luchino Visconti committed an intellectual and political disservice 
in The Damned by implying that all fascists are either money-mad 
maniacs or drooling sexual perverts; this is not the truth, and thus 
it is not the danger of fascism, nor its warning sign. If, in films like 
Zabriskie Point, we take superficial business cartoons as the truth 
about materialism, if we take sloganeering and attitudinizing as the 
truth about dissent, we blind ourselves to the real sterilities of the 
first and the real values of the second. 



246 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Winter Wind 

(March 25, 1970) 

Winter Wind is confusing, and I left the theater disappointed in this 
new film by a director I admire, Miklos Jancso. But then it began 
to work, retroactively. The confusions are not clarified now, but a 
rationale for the confusions becomes clear, an esthetic rationale. 

This is Jancso's third film since The Red and the White (1968); 
the two intervening films Silence and Cry and Ah! Qa Ira have 
not yet been shown here, so it is impossible to discuss his develop 
ment in an orderly way. But some connections are evident even on 
the other side of this jump. His theme is once again power, the power 
of some men over other men's lives, and the desire of the other men to 
reverse that power structure, and the way that the contest gets trans 
muted into statements of ideals. Once again he is concerned with the 
record of those contests, called political history. Once again he uses 
sex not love, but sex, nakedly represented by female nudity as a 
chemical in the compound. Once again violent death is treated, both 
by killer and killed, as an event whose time has come; once again 
fear is never shown, not because all these people are brave but be 
cause the characters have accepted their destinies in life, as the actors 
have accepted playing those characters. 

The opening consists of clips from a famous newsreel of political 
assassination, the shooting of King Alexander of Yugoslavia at Mar 
seilles in 1934 (and also of Barthou, the French foreign minister, who 
was welcoming him to France) . This is shown silently, accompanied 
only by slow gong strokes. Then we are told that the story we are 
about to see deals with events leading up to this assassination, which 
was planned by the Ustashi. The latter were a group of Croatian 
fascist terrorists, trying to wrest Croatia from Serbian domination. 

The first sequence that follows is the first of the unexplained inci 
dents, an assassination attempt by a Ustashi band. We never know 
where the attempt takes place or who is in the carriage coming along 
the snowy road. All we know is that the sequence is filmed beauti 
fully, almost idly all we hear are hoofs and shots, and the cawing 
of crows, as the camera circles continuously; following the men as 
they ride and walk across the snow-covered fields, take their places, 



WINTER WIND 247 

then fire and are fired upon, and fall or flee, in a waking dream of 
killing. When Jacques Charrier, as the leader of the band, is waiting 
behind a tree for the carriage and crosses himself with a hand that 
holds a pistol, he epitomizes the film's atmosphere. 

All the rest takes place on an estate in southern Hungary near the 
Croatian border, where the Ustashi are hiding while they plan the 
assassination of the king. The materials of the picture are the suspi 
cions bred among conspirators by the very act of conspiracy, the 
corruption of small loyalties within the outlines of a large loyalty, the 
masquerades of ego and sadism under the name of fervor for freedom. 
The action centers on the leader, Charrier. At the end his followers 
form an agreement of cooperation with their Hungarian hosts. He 
refuses to abide by this agreement, refuses to commit suicide, expects 
to be shot, and is promptly shot. Then he is made into a martyr; the 
last scene is an oath of fealty to the movement in his name. 

That much is clear. But dozens of details in the film are unex 
plained, abruptly introduced and dropped. Some examples: Why, 
when the spy is discovered, is he taken out and made to lie down 
in the snow, then ordered to get up again, and only much later shot? 
Who is the tall moustached man who brings the teen-age girl with 
him? Why does he make the two other women in the house undress? 
Why does he make the girl take a bath with one of them? I have no 
idea. (There are also anomalies of language: for example, they all 
speak French this is a Franco-Hungarian coproduction yet sing 
their anthem in Croatian.) Trying to follow the story of this picture, 
as story, is an exercise in frustration. Yet, incredibly, after the film 
is over, a feeling begins to seep through the accumulated frustration: 
that the bafflement was expected by Jancso; that it is the choice of an 
obviously skilled and accomplished artist. 

Subsequently I read a recent interview with Jancso, conducted by 
Jean-Louis Comolli and Michel Delahaye, in which they asked him 
why he refuses to give explanations, why he shows only unmotivated 
acts. He replied that it is because of conditions in Hungary, where 
"we cannot put our message across as clearly and directly as we would 
like. . . . Since all of us want to say something, and at the same time 
are not forthright enough to do so, we count a great deal on the form 
of the film to make a statement. . . . Perhaps that is the reason why 
situations and acts are the most important things in my films. What 
interests me most is form." 



248 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

He says that for several centuries, because of continually changing 
internal conditions, Hungarians have had to speak obliquely, using 
shape to suggest substance. We might cite exceptions, but perhaps 
Jancso has found a rationale in the present authoritarian Hungarian 
state for a "private" method that he really has arrived at out of his 
own psychology and esthetics. At any rate, his film does find its life 
through its form. 

This form has two principal aspects. First, the visible statement of 
unexplained acts in order to reach the unstated. The aim seems to be 
to make a film with the aftereffect principally in mind. Second, the 
use of continuous, generally circular camera movement. There are 
fewer than fifteen cuts in this film: which means that the entire eighty 
minutes were photographed on fewer than fifteen pieces of film. Com 
pare that with, for instance, Rashomon, which runs eighty-eight min 
utes and is composed of 407 bits of film. Jancso literally follows the 
action. Kurosawa has said that he photographs in order to have 
something to edit. Jancso is photographing in such a way that editing 
is superfluous: which means that a good deal of his creative process 
takes place at an earlier stage in the making of his film. 

Also, he has said that he shoots his films silent, or with a sound 
track merely for purposes of record, so that he can direct his actors 
while the camera is rolling and moving. (The final sound track is 
added later, usually with the actors who have played the roles.) This 
gives him the chance to keep some sequences running more than ten 
minutes and, although he has rehearsed them before he shoots, en 
ables him to "conduct" the actors, a la silent film days or just as a 
conductor leads musicians whom he has already rehearsed. These 
long sequences, without cuts and with the flow of the camera's move 
ment, are, I think, Jancso's effort to capture some of the long, relent 
less, and cyclical swell of history, thus reinforcing his theme with the 
look and feel of his film. 

Theory is theory: and some excellent theories, excellently artic 
ulated like Brechf s theory of epic theater simply do not function 
as well as they read. But I am haunted by a feeling that Jancso is on 
to something fascinating, imperfectly though he has accomplished 
it here: an attempt to record the subliminal not with the much- 
used method of splattering in bits of nonsequential or non-"present" 
material, but by trying to capture a mystery beneath the surfaces of 
facts. A chief power of film has been its ability to make facts magical; 



WINTER WIND 249 

Jancso is trying to ignore that magic, is trying to catch the invisible 
sum of the facts, which is like the solid wheel that is made by spinning 
individual spokes. His inquiry is both thoroughly cinematic and quite 
revolutionary, but in a sophisticated and difficult way much more 
daring than the Now editing that has been diluted by Now hacks out 
of Godard and Lester. 

But, as noted, Winter Wind is unsatisfactory possibly because it 
does not dare quite enough. A ballet is a ballet: we do not expect 
character dossiers or precise explications of this glide or that leap. 
But Jancso has paused at a midpoint between veristic drama and non- 
programmatic ballet. A film on the idea of politics that, out of all 
history, specifies the Ustashi and then does not tell us why, has one 
foot hi realism and the other in abstraction. Was Jancso trying to 
say something about Hungary's dictatorial government of the time 
and its support of fascists? Was he trying to show us ironically that 
fascists are as pure in their revolutionary zeal as other zealots? These 
are only some of the foreground questions that he himself raises, 
then ignores as he concentrates on abstract matters of form and move 
ment. 

Charrier, in past films., has been an unremarkable good-looking 
young man. Here he manages more gravity than I would have ex 
pected but not quite enough broodiness and concealed fire. Marina 
Vlady suggests some sexual secrecies, as a woman assigned to the 
hideout. Zoltan Farkas, who has edited much of Jancso' s past work, 
is again his editor here, but, outside of possible help on planning the 
shape of sequences, could not have had much to do. This is the first 
color film by Jancso I have seen, with the cinematography by Janos 
Kende, and the palette is generally muted. 

The matters I noted in The Red and the White the constant 
shifts in authority from one person to another, the strings of footling 
commands have now grown almost into raisons d'etre, along with 
longer and longer camera sweeps, and the result is an irritating, un 
satisfying picture; but Winter Wind is the work of a unique and com 
plex cinematic mind. 



250 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Fellini Satyncon 

(April 11, 1970) 

FEDERICO Fellini told Alberto Moravia, in an interview lately pub 
lished in Vogue, that he had tried to eliminate the idea of history 
from his Satyricon, "the idea that the ancient world really existed. 
... I used an iconography that has the allusiveness and intangibility 
of dreams." In reply to the next, logical question, he said that it was 
a dream dreamed by himself, and then Moravia asked, "I wonder 
why you dreamt such a dream." Fellini replied: "The movies wanted 
me to." 

Exactly. The reply contains all the truth and f akery and truth about 
f akery that have made Fellini, artist and man, one of the most appeal 
ing of modern film figures. Since his earliest films, Variety Lights and 
The White Sheik, he has been dealing with truth tellers and pretend 
ers, realists and dreamers, and his love for both. I Vitelloni is about 
some young men who are realists and others who are fantasists. 8V2 
is about a film director begging the movies to command a dream 
from him. Fellini's life has been spent in the service of both reality 
and nonreality, largely because he knows, as one of the few film 
masters who also understand theatricality, that theater without arti 
fice is a fake ideal and a naif s idea of truth. 

His movie dream of Petronius is another work of truth and arti 
fice. I had to see the picture twice in order to get some view of it; 
the first time I laid my own expectations on it and obscured the work. 
I expected (and the advance publicity whetted the expectation) a 
comic bacchanalian film in the tone of the original, which has been 
described by William Arrowsmith as "everywhere shot through with 
a gusto and a verve and a grace of humor." Not at all. Fellini Satyr- 
icon (so called to distinguish it from a quickie competitor based on 
the same source) is elegiac, joyless, resigned. There are many scenes 
of revel and of sex in it; there is very little gusto. 

Another burden from which Fellini has to be freed is our ex 
pectation of method. He has taught us to expect lightning play in his 
editing, swift referential humor and counterpoint, drama and dialectic 
by deft junctures of material, and he has used this method even in his 
recent short film Toby Dammit (a part of Spirits of the Dead} . There 



FELLINI SATYRICON 251 

is some splintery referential editing in Satyricon, but the principal 
method is immersion in texture and color, steady progression through 
the "feel" of a scene, rather than any lightning mosaics or kaleido 
scopic flow. The second time it was possible to see the picture as what 
it is. 

Fellini and Bernardino Zapponi, who also collaborated on the 
screenplay of Toby Dammit, have used enough of Petronius to bind 
their script to the original, hi materials at least, and have also done 
some improvisation on themes. We see the rivalry between Encolpius 
and Ascyltus for the pretty boy Giton. We go to Trimalchio's feast. 
We visit bordellos and baths. We follow the two friends on their ad 
ventures as slaves and freebooters. There is a quiet episode hi which 
a patrician commits suicide to avoid capture by an enemy, and as 
he sits tranquilly bleeding, his wife, at his feet, murmurs (anach- 
ronistically) the opening of the Emperor Hadrian's lovely poem 
Animula vagula blandula. Encolpius and Ascyltus enjoy the favors 
of the patrician's sole survivor, an African slave girl whose language 
is like running water. Encolpius later loses his sexual potency and 
journeys with Ascyltus to a witch who can restore his virility. While 
Encolpius is delighting in his returned maleness, his friend gets in 
volved in a fight for his life, which we see hi the background. But 
Encolpius does not leave off to help his friend, and Ascyltus is killed. 
Then Encolpius embarks on a voyage with new friends. He begins 
to describe the voyage for us but breaks ofi in midsentence. The 
camera pulls back from the seaside to show us fragments of frescoes 
bearing images of the characters we have been watching for two 
hours, and the film is finished. 

Fellini has often used multinational casts but always with some 
eye to seeming Italian-ness. No such worry here. -His actors are 
American and English and French and German, as well as Italian, 
and the sound track is a melange of languages Latin and Greek and 
Italian and German which he has dubbed with almost deliberate 
carelessness, as if the Voices, collectively, were an additional charac 
ter. He says he has done this for an effect of alienation, and he has 
succeeded, for good or ill. Part of the result is that none of the people 
achieves anything more than time-experience with us; we get no 
deeper knowledge of them, only more and more of the first impres 
sion. 

Some of the faces are excellent: Martin Potter, the golden Encol- 



252 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

plus, Hiram Keller, the dark scheming Ascyltus, Max Born as Giton, 
the faun of many an afternoon and night, Mario Romagnoli, a Roman 
restaurateur with the perfect parvenu face for Trimalchio. Among the 
few familiar actors are Alain Cuny 7 as the one-eyed Lichas, and, 
in brief appearances, Capucine, Magali Noel, and Lucia Bose. There 
is the usual gallery of Fellini "faces," mostly grotesque; but they are 
not used as English social-realist directors use ugly faces, to prove 
that life is ugly: they help to fill out FeHini's theorem that the gods 
will have their little jokes and that all faces, including pretty ones, 
are among the keenest jokes, one way or another, eventually. 

The cinematographer, whose lighting makes the evocative murk or 
glare, is the masterly Giuseppe Rotunno, but the visual base of the film 
is its sets and costumes by Danilo Donati (in place of Fellini's usual 
designer, Piero Gherardi). The intent of the costumes here is quite 
different from that in SV2 and Juliet of the Spirits. There we saw 
extravaganzas on clothes that we know; here that view is not nearly so 
possible, and what we get is warped sumptuousness a lushness that 
is not meant to attract. 

This leads directly to the matter of Fellini's purpose in Satyricon, 
so far as it can be inferred. I can't place much credence in the formula 
tions that he himself has offered in incessant interviews: that this 
is a pre-Christian film for a post-Christian era, or that it is science 
fiction of the past instead of the future. This cautionary reason may 
have some meager basis ex post facto, but it hardly seems large 
enough. To show us parallels in decadence? For all his love of super 
ficiality, Fellini is not as superficial as that. True, during Trimalchio's 
feast, I remembered that one of Scott Fitzgerald's projected titles for 
The Great Gatsby was Trimalchio in West Egg; still the modern 
parallels are either obvious or strained. For instance, homosexuality 
in Petronius is part of the norm, but the most unbiased among us 
today knows that homosexuality is generally considered perverted or 
sinful; so Encolpius' love for Giton does not symbolize modern "dis 
solution." Fellini's reasons, I think, lie elsewhere. Moravia has re 
cently reviewed the film (New York Review of Books, March 26) 
and after a couple of columns of banality on Petronius compare 
Erich Auerbach! he gets to what he considers the content of the 
film, which is "broadly speaking, religious. ... To understand 
Fellini's special kind of religiosity, we believe that the greatest im 
portance must be attributed to his manifest preference for the mon- 



FELLINI SATYRICON 253 

strous and impure. . . . One does not have to make a great effort of 
the imagination to trace back this preference ... to a fascinated and 
funereal moralism." He then says that the difference between Petro- 
nius and Fellini is that the former is a realist and the latter is not. 
Auerbach (in Mimesis') agrees about Petronius only within strict 
historical limitations; I would agree about Fellini only with regard to 
his Satyricon; but in any event Moravia's analysis leaves unclear any 
internal reason, inferable by the viewer, as to why Fellini made this 
film. In short, what is there in the picture itself that indicates 
why this man, who has made only contemporary films that were 
psychologically pertinent even when stylistically extravagant, has 
abandoned pertinence for extravagance: has chosen a subject that 
freed him of pertinence and allowed him to concentrate on the 
extravagance? 

For me, the answer lies in flat contradiction of Moravia's state 
ment that Fellini has "completely surmounted the personal crisis" 
with which his two previous full-length films were concerned. Satyri 
con wrestles with that crisis in another way, that is all. And that crisis 
makes a connection, at the very base, between this Satyricon and 
Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. Both are the works of mature artists that 
reflect the contemporary artist's relation to the world as material for 
art. Experience is not less than it was, it is too much more: our 
culture's expanded consciousness (within) and amplified communica 
tion (without) overwhelm and enervate some artists and produce, 
finally, a bankruptcy, rather than a surfeit, because of a sense of in 
competence to deal with that enlarged experience. 

Still, artists must work or wither. Antonioni's solution, as dis 
cussed earlier, was an emigration to a different place and a different 
generation. Fellini's emigration was to the past: where his sense of 
futility and oppression was relieved of the necessity of point and could 
express itself as a -function of film making itself. Moravia is quite 
right about Fellini's moralism, but one large aspect of that moralism 
is in the artist's moral compunction to work. It is difficult at least 
for me to imagine Fellini making this film unless, in a way, he was 
forced to. Satyricon is a step past S l /2, which was about a director 
looking for a film to make and (despite the desperate ending) failing 
to find one. Satyricon is the film that Guido, the hero of 8V2, might 
have made. 

The statement that Moravia himself recorded in his interview 



254 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

seems to me the root of the matter: the movies commanded Fellini 
to dream this dream because he is alive and his life consists of making 
films. It does indeed deal with the monstrous and impure; its moral 
tone is funereal. It might better have been called Fellini Inferno, rather 
than his Satyricon. But the inferno, I believe, is the sum of the con 
ditions of life, and his life in particular, that forced him to make the 
film at all. 

So the film depends for its being entirely on the way it is made. 
There are of course recognizable Fellini hallmarks: the silent opening 
(as in J /), the big fish (La Dolce Vita), the abrupt ending (like 
the freeze frame at the end of / Vitelloni), the earth mother whore 
(from several pictures). But it is the first Fellini feature film that has, 
in the post-Renaissance sense, no characters. There are only persons, 
some of whom are on screen more than others. The film has no 
cumulative story, let alone drama. There is not even a cumulation of 
adventures, in the picaresque manner; many of the sequences are 
simply scenes observed. Satyricon depends entirely on its look, and, 
unlike 8 2, which finally lives through its style, there are few afferents 
to bind us to the style, to make us care about it in anything more than 
a graphic arts, "gallery" way a way that is directly opposed to 
theatrical experience. 

Fundamentally we simply look at Fellinf s pictures, some of which 
are gorgeous, some rather predictably so, all of them tending toward 
darkness and away from light. (Sunlight actually kills one of the 
persons in the film and tortures some others.) Sex consists of lurid 
flickering lights in that darkness, whether they are glimpses of bright 
cubicles in a bordello or torches that magically ignite between a beau 
tiful girl's legs. The scaly, scumbled walls, the faces that are fighting 
mortality, the pleasureless pleasures, the short-lived parodies of 
friendship and love and marriage, all of them are essentially pictorial, 
not dramatic pictures from the dream of a man who once had 
exuberance and now has only dreams. It is the work of a master who 
knows, rather somberly, that he still has a long time to live. 



MISSISSIPPI MERMAID 255 

Mississippi Mermaid 

(May 2, 1970) 

Any film by Frangois Truffaut commands a certain amount of ecstasy 
in advance from those committed to the auteur theory of film 
criticism. One feels that their response to all future Truffaut films is 
already pretty well formulated and awaits only details of plot. 

For those uncommitted to that theory, Truffaut's Mississippi 
Mermaid may seem as it did to me a commonplace, overextended 
thriller. As is often the case with Truffaut and others of the old New 
Wave, it is based on a hack American novel this one by Cornell 
Woolrich. Jean-Paul Belmondo is a rich young factory owner on the 
island of Reunion, near Madagascar, who sends for a mail-order 
bride. She is Catherine Deneuve, who arrives on the ship Mississippi, 
hence the title. Within about thirty seconds, all of us except Belmondo 
know that Miss Deneuve is an impostor, not the girl with whom he 
had corresponded. About forty minutes of screen time later, Bel 
mondo, too, discovers the deceit, and the rest of the film is taken up 
with his pursuit of the decamped deceiver, who has robbed him, his 
acceptance of her (when he finds her) because he cannot help loving 
her, his commission of a murder, and the sad, long-delayed end. 

In all of this decently photographed and passably acted film, there 
is no plot surprise, except for the very clumsy discovery of Belmondo's 
buried victim. Nor is there a great deal of the visual felicity that was 
once Truffaut's distinction. Belmondo walks through his performance 
like a latter-day Jean Gabin, although, like Gabin, his mere presence 
has some power. Catherine Deneuve, blank-faced and skinny, is again 
supposed to suggest, by the negatives of her blankness and skinniness, 
all sorts of fire and kinky sex. Michel Bouquet, tiny-eyed and purse- 
mouthed, is adequate as a private detective. 

As with so many films by directors of this school, there are lots of 
"in" film references called, in the lingo, "homage." The picture is 
dedicated to Jean Renoir, but that at least is overt. Some cryptic 
references: the detective is named Comolli (Jean-Louis Comolli is a 
well-known French film critic); the house in "Switzerland" to which 
the couple flee at the end seems to be the same house used at the end 
of Truffaut's earlier (and immensely superior) film Shoot the Piano 



256 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Player; there are matte shots a la silent films (where all of the screen 
is masked except for one small area) and "wipes" between scenes. 
These last devices are meant to be seen in invisible "quotation marks," 
as when a literate person deliberately uses cliches or archaicisms. 

For those uninterested in "in" cuteness, these deliberate cliches are 
tedious, and the unwitting cliches make them worse. For instance, the 
sequence in which Belmondo is sick in a Nice hospital might have 
been shot by such a Hollywood dray horse as Jack Smight. 

Truffaut was a leading formulator of the auteur theory; in fact, as 
explicit theory, it is usually said to date from an article he wrote in 
Cahiers du Cinema in January 1954. One tenet of that theory holds 
that material is less important than its cinema treatment, thus these 
directors have often taken stock genre material, like American 
thrillers, in order to prove that film art can be made out of the film's 
"own." Sometimes (as in Shoot the Piano Player), the transmutation 
succeeds; more often, the result is only a combination of smugness 
and camp, accompanied in the theater by the purring of the viewer 
who gets the "in" references and relishes the exaltation of pop over 
pompous old "elitist" art. 

When the transmutation fails, as it does in Mississippi Mermaid 
and as it does in most cases, the auteur theory shivers. Andre Bazin, 
the late French critic who was early associated with the theory and 
who was Truffaut's mentor, wrote a corrective article in 1957 which 
is generally disregarded by his disciples. Bazin said: "All that [the 
auteur supporters] want to retain in the equation auteur plus subject = 
work is the auteur, while the subject is reduced to zero. . . . Auteur, 
yes, but what of?" The answer, in regard to Truffaut's recent films, is: 
Not much. 



Brotherly Lore 

(May 9, 1970) 

A hopeless note. People won't go to see a fine performance in a poor 
film, as they did not go to see Richard Burton in Staircase, but it 
would be derelict not to notice fine work. Brotherly Love is a super- 



BROTHERLY LOVE 257 

fluous film. The director, J. Lee Thompson, is a pedestrian cinematic 
mind (though he evidently understands something about acting). 
The late James Kennaway, who wrote the script from his own play 
and novel, was a very diluted Bronte. But Peter OToole's perform 
ance is stunning. 

The title is literal the story is about incestuous love (not acts of 
incest). The theme is ancient, but, to supply a double and symbolic 
doom, it is intertwined here with a theme of declining aristocracy, 
which makes it somewhat remote for us. O'Toole is therefore working 
uphill all the way, with little base of reference in American life for his 
character's nostalgia, yet he succeeds brilliantly in creating an affecting 
lost man. 

He is a Scottish country baronet, sensitive, arrogant, alcoholic, who 
loves his sister (Susannah York) so much that her husband has left 
the house, though he lives nearby and wants his wife back. O'Toole is 
in process of ruining himself physically and financially as a rather 
theatrical Last of the Line, a detester of plebs, and a lover who knows 
that the one true love of his life is hopeless. His sister returns his love 
almost as completely, and when he sees that he is ruining her life, 
driving her to sordid affairs in her helplessness, he goes pretty much 
out of his mind a place he has been before. 

O'Toole has to survive some coarse incidents, like a tumble among 
garbage cans and chamber pots to prove how low he has fallen. But 
from his first appearance, there is conviction that a very difficult note 
has been struck exactly, with subtlety and fire. Through all of this 
easily capsizable role, he balances pride and self-disgust, amusement 
and anguish. His voice is one of the best instruments among English- 
speaking actors, not big and boomy but delicately colored and strong. 
When the drunken brother tells the husband that the latter really 
hates them (the brother and sister) but is hooked on them, O'Toole 
charges the lines with the electricity and music of damnation. When 
he begins to go feral and shifty and suspects even his sister of con 
spiracy against him, his gaunt figure has a lone Byronic appeal. At 
the end he flees those who want to cart him off to an asylum, and his 
tearful sister finds him in their old hideaway in a barn; and when he 
turns to her in the dim light and speaks the words "I love you" for 
the first and probably last time, it is a moment of high pathetic beauty. 

But it's all no use, I know. Not many people are concerned about 
acting, as such, any more. Worse, O'Toole's curse is that he is a 



258 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

romantic actor, in the largest art sense of the term, caught in an age 
that has little use for that kind of romance. "It's a sort of time thing," 
he says at one point, "I'm what's known as a hangover." It is a per 
formance of an anachronistic character in what is perhaps becoming 
an anachronistic style, but it is splendid. Will anyone see it? 



Two or Three Things I Know about tier 

(May 9, 1970) 

IT is now chic to speak of Jean-Luc Godard's Periods. The Second 
Period presumably begins with La Chinoise (1967) and concentrates 
on political-revolutionary themes. The First Period, though heavily 
laced with politics, concentrated on personal relationships, societal 
matters, and investigations of artistic method. Now, belatedly, we get 
the last picture of the first group, Two or Three Things I Know about 
Her, made in 1966 and seen here only at festivals. It turns out to be 
one of Godard's best. 

The "her" of the tide, he says, is not the heroine but Paris itself. 
Two events impelled the making of the film: he read a newspaper 
letter from a woman about part-time prostitution in the new expensive 
apartment projects because of the high cost of living, and in August 
1966 a new administrator in chief was appointed for the Paris region. 
We see a day in the life of a young wife, including afternoon rendez 
vous to pay for a new sweater. Her story is frequently intercut with 
the sights and strident sounds of changing Paris: drills, cranes, con 
struction trucks, etc. Near the end she stands in front of the apartment 
house where she lives with her garage-mechanic husband and then- 
two small children, and as she talks to us of her plight, the camera 
does a Godardian 360-degree pan around the immense canyon of 
new houses. The very last shot is of neatly arranged package goods 
on the grass detergents and cigarettes and breakfast foods and 
they glow at us as the picture fades. 

The aim is not solely to mock materialism: Godard is also in 
fluenced, reportedly, by the poetry of Francis Ponge, which is con 
cerned with "Thingism," the seeming life and effect of "things." But 



TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER 259 

the film mainly explores the Americanization (read "modernization") 
of French life and the pressures of artificially stimulated consumerism, 
which, Godard implies, makes prostitutes of us all to some extent. His 
cinematic techniques are familiar: no plot but a chronicle with Brech- 
tian part titles; many interviews; some literary references. (Two young 
men, who are seen compiling an anthology of unrelated excerpts from 
books, are named for Flaubert's Bouvard and Pecuchet.) A com 
mentary is whispered throughout by Godard himself, including quota 
tions (he has said) from Raymond Aron's Eighteen Lessons on 
Industrial Society. There are many pretty girls and much cigarette 
smoking as decor. The color photography by Raoul Coutard is, as 
usual, exemplary. 

Two or Three Things is more interesting than many other Godard 
films because, for one reason, it seems to have sustained the director's 
own interest. There is no feeling, as in Pierrot le Fou, that this very 
bright man has embarked on something to which he is committed 
long after his darting mind has really left it and that he has been 
forced to invent irreverences and interpolations to keep himself inter 
ested. For another reason, the film is devoid of the worst aspects of 
Youth Worship that sometimes taint his work; it is about people, some 
of whom are young. But the chief merit is that it develops its themes 
within itself, for the most part, not by imposition. The interplay be 
tween the facts of the changing city (an appeal to the new Paris 
administrator, really) and the changing lives of Paris is graphic. And 
when the heroine moves easily from action within a scene to speak to 
us directly about herself and her quandaries, which she does often, it 
creates two dualities of consciousness hers about her life and her 
"acting" of it, ours about the film as fictional truth and about the 
making of that truth. There is a nice sense of metatheater, in Lionel 
Abel's term: of the heroine living her life and simultaneously seeing 
herself, as the protagonist of a drama she is watching. And all the 
while, a tightening circle of chromium-plated, electronic wolves is 
yapping at her heels. 

But the impasted artistic and philosophical freight is once again 
tedious. The interviewing of characters by an unseen interviewer, 
which is supposed to break open film convention, is now a Godardian 
convention. The sound track, with Godard quoting away, has an air 
of dormitory discovery a sophomore discovering, under the mid 
night lamp, what life and metaphor are All About. When we get a 



260 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

huge close-up of bubbles floating on the surface of coffee in a cup 
while Godard whispers about Being and Nothingness, it remains 
bubbles and quotations; there is no transformation into philosophical 
comment or Pongeist poem. 

Marina Vlady, the heroine, is pleasant and composed. While the 
film stays with her, in her complications of self-knowledge, there is 
some sense of genuine phenomenological dilemma, some inquiry into 
the data of consciousness. When Godard sloshes stuff at us, be 
latedly discovered by him and untransmuted, we get a Child's Garden 
of Phenomenology. 



The Joke 

{May 16, 1970) 

HISTORY has supplied a nasty final twist for The Joke. This Czech film 
has its own bitter finish, but it is now topped by events in the world 
around it. In the mid-1960s Czechoslovakia was looking back with 
bitter relief at the Stalinist days of the early fifties. The hero of this 
film is a science researcher who suffered in his student days because 
of a joking postcard he wrote, mocking official optimism and praising 
Trotsky. A student committee got him expelled from the university 
and into a punishment brigade. Now he seeks revenge by seducing the 
wife of the chairman of that student committee. After the seduction, 
the joke is still on the hero because he finds that the couple are 
estranged and he hasn't hurt the husband at all. 

End of film. But what has happened in Czechoslovakia since it 
was finished takes the point past irony into the mainstream of his- 
torical pessimism. 

Jaromil Jires, the director, collaborated with Milan Kundera on the 
screenplay, derived from Kundera's novel of the same name. Jires 
was not making a satire on bureaucracy. That sort of satire is a staple 
of current East European literature, permitted because it is unspecific: 
it could apply to Madrid or Canberra or Washington. Tires' film is 
deeper: it is about the difference between a socialism that is fearful 
and rigid and a socialism that is wanted and therefore is not afraid of 



GETTING STRAIGHT 261 

mockery. That is Tires' political point. On the human scale, he is 
saying that revenge is impossible because time cannot be turned 
back and wrongs cannot really be undone. Revenge may make us 
feel better, but that's another story. 

Josef Somr, who was the Don Juan in Closely Watched Trains, is 
exactly right as the saturnine hero. (One nice touch: when he gets up 
in the morning and dresses for his vengeful assignation, he doesn't 
shave!) Ludek Munzar has a clean sanctimonious air as his prose 
cutor and intended victim. And Vera Kresadlova, the girl in Intimate 
Lighting, is again charming in a brief appearance as Munzar's young 
mistress. Jires makes a particularly trenchant comment on the gen 
eration gap in a brief exchange between Somr and this girl. She is 
eating cotton candy at a street fair when Munzar introduces her to 
Somr. The conversation turns to the subject of physical strength, and 
she teases Somr. He replies that he is very strong, that he used to work 
in the mines. She takes a bite of candy and asks whether he was in a 
punishment brigade; he says yes. "How long?" she asks. He says, 
"Six years." Without a pause she asks, "Where?" and takes another 
calm bite of cotton candy. 



Getting Straight 

(May 30, 1970) 

Getting Straight is a very ambitious film that is too small for its 
britches. It wants nothing less than to deal with the educational crisis, 
the student crisis (not precisely the same), the racial crisis, the genera 
tion gap, the draft, Vietnam, drugs, relations between the sexes, and 
sexual relations. The screenplay by Robert Kaufman, from a novel by 
Ken Kolb, scurries after all these matters on one of the busiest shop 
ping tours in recent films. Of course, no film about university life today 
could easily avoid at least some of these subjects, and Getting Straight 
touches at least some speck of truth in every one of them, but its 
movie-type cleverness and its perspiration as it hurries after every 
thing reduce the impact of the best in it. 

If this picture hasn't already been nicknamed The Postgraduate, 



262 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

it will be, and the joke is justified although it has nothing like the 
virtues of The Graduate because it proves yet again that Nichols' 
film was a milestone in U.S. film history: Getting Straight traces its 
pedigree all the way back through those three long years to Nichols. 
The postgraduate himself is Elliott Gould, returned to a Western 
university six years after he got his B.A. having spent some of the 
interim in Vietnam and some just copping out to get his M.A. and 
teach in high school. He means to get "straight," to join up and join 
in, but he ends up, after some fury at the blindness of the Establish 
ment, by joining the student dissenters. 

The first few minutes tell us, in stock vignette style, that Gould is a 
Big Man on campus, everybody's friend, on top of every situation 
and a great many girls. He is humane, broke, sincere, intelligent, hard 
working, fiery, sexually gymnastic, undeluded, idealistic, and witty. 
Burne- Jones would not have dared to paint Galahad in.pre-Raphaelite 
light the way this film paints the mod Gould. He commits only one 
mistake in the story a fraud, allowing a friend to take an exam for 
him and forge his name and even that is so egregiously dumb that 
we know it was planted by the scriptwriter just to provide one per 
sonal flaw and a plot complication. 

There are intellectual sentimentalities: Gould, as a practice teacher, 
tells a slow student who reads Batman that this is great because it 
leads to Don Quixote. There are structural pangs: the quarrels be 
tween Gould and his "real" girl, Candice Bergen, pump away in the 
script like an artificial heart. (The two finally come together in the 
middle of a wildly destructive student riot like any old fade-out 
clinch that made a quiet oasis in the middle of a storm or a battle.) 
There are dreadful gags: some mechanical stuff with Gould's battered 
car. There is factual silliness: the liberal university president is gleeful 
about "revolutionary" concessions he has wrung from his trustees, 
concessions that would have seemed outdated in 1965. (Not that 
there aren't reactionary campuses still, but those that are liberal are 
far more liberal than this president's program.) 

Still the film has some bite particularly in a few of Gould's out 
bursts about the blindness of the Establishment and the need for 
revised values. Enough bite so that this picture raises questions 
bigger than its treatment of them. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner 
(for instance) was too stupid to make us think about its subject: 
Getting Straight is just intelligent enough to make us think of what 



GETTING STRAIGHT 263 

it's about: the function of the university, its relation to the festering 
world that supports it, its relation to the students whose response 
to the university's education is to quarrel with the university basi 
cally, questions that have been troubling our world in the hundred 
years beginning with Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy. Culture 
is still connected to the evils that induce the rage to anarchy, and now 
the potential anarchists come from among the cultivated. It is an old 
joke about Americans that we think every question must have an 
answer, but we seem to be learning otherwise in these matters. More 
and more it seems that the best way to deal with these questions is 
simply to bear them constantly in mind, to deal with them on the best 
possible day-to-day empirical basis, and to hope that the shape of one's 
psyche and intent will eventually shape a pattern though not an 
Answer. 

Getting Straight at least dramatizes or cinematizes some of the 
relevant evidence. Richard Rush, who has made films previously but 
whose work is new to me, has directed at about the level of Peerce's 
Goodbye, Columbus: lots of physical closeness, juicy color, fast cut 
ting, and multiplane composition. With this latter, he vastly overuses 
the device of "racking" camera focus in the middle of a shot a fore 
ground figure becoming misty as a background figure becomes clear, 
or vice versa; and his sense of bustle seems to invade even the quiet 
scenes. His film is much more exploitative than committed, but some 
of the exploitation like a student battle with cops is well handled. 
Lasdo Kovacs, who has worked with Rush before and who also did 
Easy Rider, supplies good post-Re d Desert photography. 

Elliott Gould's forte is comic composure and, within it, the Feiffer- 
like cartooning he can do with inflections and pauses. He gets little 
chance for it here; he seems to be shouting and "energizing" a good 
deal of the time. He's solid and pleasant enough, but better in roles 
like the doctor in M*A*S*H. Candice Bergen, presumably whipped 
along by Rush, tries hard for volatility, but there is a band of deadness 
across her eyes and a residual flatness hi her voice that make her 
seem stolid in the midst of rage. And I have rarely seen so pretty a 
girl with so little sex appeal. I think it's her basically unconvincing 
acting that gets in the way. Professional sexpots like Raquel Welch 
don't pretend, in their roles, to much credibility: their performances 
are meant as quasi jokes. Miss Bergen's is not, and its dullness affects 
her appeal as a girl. 



264 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

Sympathy for the DevU; See You at Mao 

Uune 6, 1970) 

MORE from Godard two of Ms more recent films, made in England 
in English. 

Godard is, demonstrably, a puritan, but he understands the role of 
sex in revolution. Sympathy for the Devil begins with a highly sexual 
figure, Mick Jagger, recording the title song with the Rolling Stones. 
These recording sessions, full of the rock-Jagger-youth charge, are 
the base to which the film keeps returning, in rondo form, after inter 
ludes in which black men caress and murder white girls, the camera 
pans slowly over lurid magazines in a porno bookshop that is run in a 
militaristic manner, a porno political thriller is read on the sound 
track, and two miniskirted black chicks interview a black militant. 
If there is a specific theme in this generally revolutionary film, it is the 
concurrence of sexual and political energy. A girl called Eve Democ 
racy (Anne Wiazemsky) is interviewed in a manner that rambles 
physically and topically, mostly political-social questions that can 
be answered yes or no, and even here there are questions about the 
orgasm and lovemaking. 

In other interludes Miss Wiazemsky wanders about London in a 
digger hat spraying slogans on cars and walls, usually neologisms that 
,are reminiscent of Walter Winchell. ("Cinemarxism" reminded me of 
"cinemarriage.") There are readings of LeRoi Jones and Eldridge 
Cleaver and other black revolutionary material in a London auto 
mobile graveyard populated by armed and arming blacks. In the last 
scene, the wounded Miss Wiazemsky wounded, I suppose by 
bourgeois society staggers across a beach in front of spectators and 
falls across a camera crane. The crane, at Godard's visible order, then 
lifts her into the sky as the black flag of anarchy and the red flag of 
revolution flutter on either side of "Democracy's" body. All this 
material, and more, seems to rise from and tend toward the sexual 
springs beneath this film. (Originally, the title was 1+1. Against 
Godard's wishes, the producer put in a complete rendering of the title 
song, "Sympathy," and used that title for the picture.) 

Sympathy should be considered along with Godard's other English 
film, See You at Mao, which runs fifty minutes and which was made 



SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL? SEE YOU AT MAO 265 

for the BBC but was never broadcast, presumably because it 
contains a long close-up of a girl's pubis. Revolution is the theme of 
Mao, too, though (despite the pubis) with much less emphasis on sex. 
Its style is similar to that of Sympathy: no attempt at narrative, even 
unconventional Godardian narrative; simply blocks of material, juxta 
posed but not joined, with slow camera movements within each block, 
with some reprises, and with a good deal of disparate "wild" dialogue 
on the sound track. For instance, the opening sequence of Mao is a 
very slow traveling shot down the assembly line in a sports car 
factory, something like the traffic-jam sequence in Weekend. Through 
much of the shot, the sound track is unrelated to the factory: it 
consists of antiphonal readings by a man and a woman of Maoist dicta, 
interspersed with the voice of a woman teaching a small child some 
harsh facts of British labor history. This simple disjunctive between 
eye and ear is evidently supposed to produce complex tension. Other 
scenes include one of the naked girl strolling about her flat, a Com 
munist workers meeting, a students' meeting, and fists bursting 
through paper British flags. The sound track frequently reverts to the 
theme of lies and truth: bourgeois lies and revisionist lies (the Soviet 
Union, presumably) as against militant (Maoist) truth. 

Both films use a collage method that has its antecedents in sur 
realism, whose essence was to project disconnected material at us in 
order to surprise and breach the expectations of rationality and thus 
to reach the truth that lies beyond the "sham" of reason. So there's a 
paradox. Surrealism would, not long since, have been the last method 
to be expected from a Marxist revolutionary. As a style, it has had 
little to do with agitprop or didactic politics or even with the puri- 
tanism that so often accompanies revolutionary fervor. Yet for God- 
ard, who is more and more fiercely Maoist, the collage method in both 
these pictures seems much more temperamentally congenial than 
narrative, even the free-wheeling narrative of La Chinoise and Week 
end. He seems more comfortable with a method of fragments than in 
fragmenting the conventional. And the suitability of this new method 
for Godard adds greatly to the conviction of his political intent in 
these new films. Political genuineness and this free form seem to have 
arrived simultaneously in him. Susan Sontag's comment that his 
didactic statements are "units of sensory and emotional stimulation" 
seems to be outdated. The ideas, no longer decor, are meant to affect 
us as ideas, not as mere sensory elements, and are meant to do so 



266 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

through this sophisticated esthetic mode. (The quality of those politi 
cal ideas is a quite different subject.) 

There is nothing in these films about revolution itself that is new. I 
was intermittently quite bored with both pictures. What was interest 
ing some of the time in immediacy, and all of the time in theory, was 
that Godard has evolved a propaganda form that is shaped by the so- 
called New Sensibility of the rock-television-cinema age. He is 
expressing pure and venerable Marxist doctrine in a style that is 
shocking to traditional Marxist esthetics. 



The Ballad of Cable Hague 

{June 6, 1970) 

SAM Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch was a Western that transcended 
the form: that is, at its best it pierced right to the forces in us that had 
originally called the form into being. There were elements of this pene 
tration in his previous Westerns, Ride the High Country and Major 
Dundee (the cavalry variation). Now, in The Ballad of Cable Hogue, 
Peckinpah has used just the opposite approach: he has concentrated 
on the form itself. He has tried to make form and style his material, 
and in my view the result is a disaster. 

With his scriptwriters, John Crawford and Edmund Penney, Peck 
inpah has aimed at creating a ballad, a film that consciously celebrates 
its lyric tone and idealized statements, but the effort is so self- 
conscious and cute, so ill-suited for Peckinpah, that the result is a series 
of smug contrivances. Over an opening song a bad one, too an old 
prospector named Hogue is abandoned by some partners and, almost 
dead of thirst but refusing stubbornly to die, discovers a waterhole 
near a stage trail. Through the years he builds that hole into a pros 
perous stage stop until he is killed aha! by one of the first motor 
cars. 

There are two other principal characters: a lecherous fake preacher, 
one of those carpentered-up eccentrics that recur in pretentious 
Westerns, played by the English actor David Warner, who, since 
Morgan, has gained neither in charm nor credibility; and a prostitute 



THE PASSION OF ANNA 267 

with a Heart of Gold, as well as gold-producing parts. She is played 
by SteUa Stevens, who has very much less appeal than, but all the 
talent of, Kim Novak. Jason Robards is Hogue. From the first mo 
ment, he is physically phony, because this grizzled desert rat has a set 
of teeth that would be too white for a TV denture-cleaner ad. On this 
initial phoniness, Robards builds with empty gusto and stale actor's 
rhetoric, and turns this intended folk ballad into a ham salad. 

Peckinpah helps very little. He was not attempting the reality-past- 
realism of The Wild Bunch, but this hardly excuses such japery as 
having the face on a five-dollar bill wink at us or shoving his camera 
down Miss Stevens' bodice or between her legs to hint that Hogue 
wants her; nor does it excuse the stereotypes of encounter and sur 
prise, the stilted opening and close, or the general lack of spirit and 
flourish that successful artificiality needs. 

Anyone can see what this film is supposed to be about: verve versus 
viscosity, man versus mass-man, mortality under the timeless sky 
and there is even a hint of the future ecological crisis. But a choice 
of good themes is not the same as making a good film, surprising as 
that platitude still seems to be to many. Peckinpah is a truly but 
narrowly gifted director with an instinct for violence, some conception 
of space, and of human character weathering within that immense 
space. He handles these matters well when he looks at them grimly, 
and I hope he soon returns to the grim vein. In his hands, the light 
fantastic is leaden. 



The Passion of Anna 

(June 20, 1970) 

INGMAR Bergman's Shame had part of its origin, I thought, hi Berg 
man's impulse to use some qualities of his "company" of actors in a 
certain situation, and his new film heightens this sense of collaboration 
and continuity. He is the only director now working whose new films 
grow organically out of his preceding ones: in continuity of locale, of 
associates, of almost diaristic closeness to the director's inner experi 
ence. It becomes increasingly plain that Bergman wants this continuity 
to be seen as part of his esthetics. 



268 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

He indicates this in several ways besides the ones mentioned above. 
There are recurrent names among his characters. Just one example 
from his latest film, The Passion of Anna: Vergerus, the architect, 
echoes Dr. Vergerus in The Magician. There are "quotations" from 
past work: a dream in this new film looks like an out-take from 
Shame. And there are subtler references: the camera fixes for several 
minutes on Liv Ullmann telling a story, as it did in Hour of the Wolf 
and Shame; the final fade is to white, and Persona, after the titles, 
began by fading in from white. 

What is all this continuity in aid of? Since 1961, ever since he 
settled on Sven Nykvist as his cinematographer, Bergman has made 
eight feature films. With the exception of the disastrous comedy All 
These Women, all of them are contemporary; most of them take place 
in "Bergman country," the Swedish countryside or coast seen in 
haunted and haunting light; all of them have small casts and the effect 
of spiritual microscopy. With quiet seriousness, Bergman has ad 
dressed the largest questions that can still be asked: questions about 
faith, wholeness, love as an idea and love as practice, hope, the per 
sistence of the beast, the teasings of truth of the possibility of 
truth. As Bergman has reduced his means and distilled his thought, 
he has also moved toward this continuity of collaborators and terrain 
as part of the process of distillation, so that artistic means in them 
selves would help the sense of concentration, and would carry implicit 
references. The very face of Max von Sydow reminds us of his pil 
grimages, in other Bergman characters, through related crises. 

The original title of this new film was A Passion. The change for 
America is a double distortion because Anna is not the protagonist 
and because it makes the word "passion" sexual, where it was pre 
sumably intended to have its religious meaning. The new film's place 
as part of the Bergman continuum is clear throughout and is empha 
sized at the end. As the protagonist disappears from view, the 
narrator's voice says: "This time he was called Andreas Winkelman." 

Andreas (played by von Sydow) has separated from his wife and 
now lives alone with his books and daily chores on that familiar 
Bergman island. We never learn what his past work was. Nearby is 
the country place of a successful Stockholm architect (Erland Joseph- 
son) and his wife, Eva (Bibi Andersson). Their house guest is 
Anna (Liv Ullmann), a widow who was driving the car in which 
her husband and small son were killed. In the course of time, Andreas 



THE PASSION OF ANNA 269 

has a brief but affectionate affair with Eva, who loves her husband 
but simply lacks the wholeness for fidelity. (It is gently hinted that 
the husband knows of this affair; he certainly knows about a past one.) 
Then Anna, the widow, comes to live with Andreas and, through a 
year or so, they have some tenderness and some fights. Toward the 
end they have a violent quarrel in which he beats her. 

I omit many, many fascinating details, which are not so much 
details of a story as of four lives. But one element essential to men 
tion here is a killer on the island, a slaughterer of animals. We get a 
distant glimpse of this man very early, when he snares Andreas' 
dachshund in a noose. Then eight sheep are killed one night, and the 
frightened islanders assault a lonely old man because of it, simply 
because he was once in a mental hospital and they must have a culprit. 
Despondent, the old man hangs himself. After the suspect's suicide, 
another farmer's barn is set on fire and his horse killed. 

Andreas goes to this fire just after his fierce fight with Anna. She 
comes to call for him and, as they drive home, they talk calmly about 
separating. Then he asks why she came to the fire to fetch him, and 
she replies, "I came to ask your forgiveness." After he has beaten 
her! She drives off the road (a small parody of the accident she was in 
earlier), and the car halts. Andreas gets out, and she drives on. 

Then comes the very last scene, a long shot of Andreas pacing back 
and forth; the camera slowly zooms in, the texture gets more and 
more grainy and white, and as the screen blanches out, we are just 
able to see Andreas fall to his knees. All during the slow zoom, we 
hear the ticking of a clock. This is a reference to the clock we heard 
much earlier when Andreas read a letter he had taken from Anna's 
pocketbook: a letter from her (dead) husband which tells the un 
happy truth about the marriage that she boasts of as happy. 

This last scene sums up a good deal of the film's concerns. Andreas 
is a withdrawn man with a strong streak of violence in him, who 
thought he had (literally) beaten his way out of an involvement that 
had come to chafe him., but who finds that he has been accepted, by 
Anna, in the truth of what he is which frightens him. Yet has Anna 
accepted the truth? The ticking reminds us of the letter, of Anna's 
power of self-deception, that she doesn't lie in the ordinary sense but 
has a terrible capacity to convert unpleasantness to fit her need for 
affirmation. As the film finishes, Andreas' passion does not finish; he 
sees that knowledge of this propensity in Anna will not free him of 



270 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

her, any more than knowledge of his own weaknesses has freed him 
of his old self despite his island retreat in a rite of self-purification. 
Purity and consistency are not possible; to live is to contradict yourself. 
To be aware of the contradictions and to bear them without resignation 
is the final passion. 

But this film is not a fable leading to a moral. Its real purpose is to 
exist: to present some lives for a time, sounding chords by com 
binations of elements within and between each of them and using 
the violence on the island as a sounding board behind them. The fact 
that the film has pulse but no plot, motion forward but no neat con 
clusion, emphasizes that it is part of the Bergman continuum: a self- 
contained chapter, still a chapter. 

At different points Bergman brings in each of his four main actors 
as himself. Each is seen "backstage" and is asked for comments on the 
role he (or she) is playing. At first I was dismayed by this device 
now widely used to include the making of the film as part of the film, 
and I'm not yet convinced that it was entirely beneficial. But at least 
(unlike similar efforts by, say, Vilgot Sjoman) the actors' comments 
are pertinent and, in themselves, become dramatic ingredients; be 
sides, these backstage glimpses help the continuum idea by showing 
us even more aspects of the Bergman "company." 

Three of these four sterling actors, named above, are well-known 
to Bergman viewers. The fourth, Josephson, may be remembered as 
the baron in Hour of the Wolf. Josephson, who is director of the 
Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm, also collaborated with Bergman 
on the script of All These Women. (They used a joint pseudonym.) 
His performance of the suave cynical architect reminiscent of the 
architect in L'Avventura looks easy until we get our glimpse of 
Josephson himself and see the difference. 

There are bothersome elements in the film. After their visit to the 
innocent old man suffering from the islanders* violence, Andreas and 
Anna go home and see a Vietnam atrocity on television; and while 
they are watching, a bird flies into the windowpane and has to be 
killed. The sequence is pat. The narrator's voice, which obtruded 
only once in Persona, obtrudes more often here. And there are some 
subliminal shots toward the end like an insect flittering in mid air 
after the beating scene that add little. 

But The Passion of Anna is lovely, partly because of its color. 
All These Women, Bergman's first color film, was garish; in this one, 



CATCH-22 271 

his cameraman-collaborator, Sven Nykvist, has opened up the dis- 
solved-pearl light of the previous "island" pictures to reveal the gold- 
green tones that lay behind it all the while. "Opening up" is the mode 
of this whole film. If it is not modeled into completely satisfying dra 
matic shape, neither is it amorphous. It happens. It feeds a hunger 
for experience as baffling as our own but more beautifully rendered 
because it is in artists' hands, as ours is not. 



Catch-22 

(July 4, 1970} 

IT begins brilliantly. No music, no sound; the titles flash on a black 
screen. Soon a dog barks in the distance, and, behind the titles, light 
begins to outline a far ridge. Another dog, a gull and dawn breaks 
in our eyes across a bay. As the titles finish, invisible B-25s grumble 
to life, huge plane wheels roll past. Through the departing bomber 
mission, we move across the field to a ruined building where a man is 
standing. Closer, we see that it is Yossarian and that behind him are 
Colonel Cathcart and Lieutenant Colonel Korn. They speak, but we 
can't hear their words over the roar. Yossarian shakes hands with 
them and leaves. As he crosses the field, a figure in GI fatigues stabs 
him. 

So at once there are some promises. Control. A really fresh idea of 
how to open. Balance between gravity (dawn blasphemed by the 
bombers) and wit (the voices we can't hear). Design: the screenplay 
adapted with a pattern in mind. In the novel, the stabbing occurs near 
the end, and presumably it has been transposed here as an arc of a 
circle to be completed. (Which is what happens. And when we see 
the scene again, later on, we hear the dialogue that was obscured the 
first time.) 

But most of the promises are broken. Catch-22, probably the most 
eagerly awaited film of a novel since Gone with the Wind, is a dis 
appointment. Partly this is because Joseph Heller's novel is now a 
historical work. Not because it follows How I Won the War, the best 
antiwar film since Grand Illusion, or the recent and much lesser 



272 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

M*A*S*H, but because there has been a profound cultural shift 
in the nine years since Catch-22 appeared. Retrospectively we can 
see that Heller's novel itself made a great cultural sweep: it brushed 
away The Catcher in the Rye as the sensibility banner of the age. The 
Salinger ideal of private fineness, rather proud to be private and un 
appreciated by the world, was replaced by the Heller view of society 
as a prison run by oafs and madmen for whom the few sane inmates 
felt some weird kind of compassion. Since 1961 no other novel, 
American or otherwise, has supplanted Catch-22 as tonal center, 
which says something about the novel form as such because Heller's 
book has been supplanted by a combination of rock and psychedelia 
and films and astrology and social activism. The result is a very dif 
ferent world-outlook. Yossarian had to fly fifty missions before he 
saw that "the enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no 
matter which side he's on. . . ." Today's young men more liberated, 
less addicted to disillusion, in some ways precociously mature know 
before they get into a uniform what Yossarian had to learn the hard 
way. 

Still, to say that Catch-22 is now a work in history is certainly 
not to say that it is dead. For one thing, Yossarian was one of the 
teachers of present-day youth. For another, in the year when our 
President says he widened a war in order to hasten peace, the logic 
of this novel is hardly unrecognizable. The book could have been 
filmed effectively if it had been treated competently as what it is, 
without nervousness, if its tone had been caught. For me, that tone 
is neither savage Swiftian satire nor Manichean black humor but 
the cool extension of the horror and the ridiculousness that are 
already present in the world: as in Kafka. (Kafka thought his novels 
were funny.) 

But the film consistently bumbles that tone or any other tone. In 
the book, when U.S. planes bomb their own base as a service to the 
Germans, so that in return the Germans will buy the Egyptian cotton 
which Minderbinder's syndicate has overstocked, it is a tart, periph 
eral, insane note; in the film it is an air raid, with real explosions and 
real flames. When Yossarian walks desolate through the nighttime 
streets of Rome, Heller makes it a floating expressionist experience. 
Here it is a solitary parade past a lot of arbitrary symbols with 
Donizetti on the soundtrack. In the book, when the parents and 
brother of a supposedly dying soldier come to visit him and Yossar- 



CATCH-22 273 

ian substitutes for the boy (who is already dead), it is a scene of 
shadows and bandages. Here it is played in light, no bandages, and 
the visitors are three comic actors. A moving symbolic moment 
becomes a failed skit. 

I'm not going to recount the story of the best-read American novel 
of the last decade. Buck Henry's screenplay omits some characters 
and collapses some of the others together, predictably. The best 
element is the retention of Heller's "recurrence" pattern: principally 
the scene between Yossarian and the wounded Snowden in the shat 
tered plane, which tells us a bit more of the incident each time we 
return. 

And cinematically those Snowden scenes are the best: overexposed 
to a ghastly whiteness, with chilly wind whistling through them. Some 
other sequences are well done: Snowden's funeral, with naked 
Yossarian in a tree; a trattoria scene in the Piazza Navona that catches 
the enforced itchy camaraderie of soldiers on leave; a shot of Doc 
Daneeka sitting alone on the beach at night. Some of the perform 
ances are good: Jon Voight as Minderbinder, Chuck Grodin as Aard- 
vark, a voluptuous unpretty Italian girl named Olympia Carlisli as 
Luciana, Robert Balaban as Orr, and Art Garfunkel (of Simon &) 
as Nately. And now I know what I have been waiting for Anthony 
Perkins to play: not a mad murderer or Melina Mercouri's lover but 
an Anabaptist chaplain. 

But the shocking fact about this film directed by Mike Nichols 
is that some of the casting is unwise and some of the performances 
are poor. Balaban and Garfunkel are confusing look-alikes. Martin 
Balsam (Cathcart) behaves like a prosperous Brooklyn butcher. 
Bob Newhart (Major Major) is a forlorn disaster. Orson Welles, 
who never had much comic gift, is highly uncomfortable as Dreedle, 
and Austin Pendleton caricatures his ninny son-in-law. It was a nice 
linkage to use Marcel Dalio, who was in Grand Illusion, but Dalio 
overdoes the brothel ancient and, playing an Italian, has an unmis 
takable French accent. And the picture founders on the one perform 
ance that was needed to save it: Alan Arkin's Yossarian. 

Arkin has superfine comic timing., which he showed in Nichols* 
New York production of Luv. So he can make us laugh when he dis 
covers in flight that his parachute is missing. He has some sense of 
pathos. So he is attractively quiet in the bed scene with Luciana. But 
he is extremely limited technically Martin Sheen, the Dobbs, might 



274 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

have taught him how to laugh, to name one elementary matter and 
he smears his poor speech, rather proudly, over everything. When 
Arkin hears that Orr has escaped, he exclaims, "Eemayih?" This 
means "He made it?" And the two harrowing moments, Nately*s death 
and the discovery of Snowden's second wound, are far beyond Arkin's 
grasp. Yossarian's words in the latter scene "There, there" are 
movingly inadequate in Heller's novel. In Arkin's mouth they seem un 
likely and inexpressive. The very same film, shot for shot, would have 
been immensely improved with a good Yossarian, Heller's hero is the 
son of Schweik, emigrated to America and immensely wised up. 
Arkin's Yossarian is not a resolutely sane man who, by his sanity, 
seems mad; he is a Jewish-intellectual cabaret comic wallowing in 
antiheroism as he plays for predictable coterie responses. 

The cinematographer was the very gifted Englishman David Wat- 
kin, whose career includes hardly by coincidence, I should think 
such antiwar films as The Charge of the Light Brigade, How I Won 
the War, and The Bed Sitting Room. Some of his work here, like the 
beginning and the Snowden sequences and a telephoto shot of a 
bomber-group take-off, is exquisite. (One fantasy scene, of soldiers 
lined up otrtside a brothel, is like a waiting line of girls hi The 
Knack, also done by Watkin.) But the director hasn't asked him for 
enough in such scenes as Yossarian's Roman walk, has called for 
repetitious knee-level shots, and has allowed some fruity lighting, as 
in the Dalio scene. 

And so to the director. I have thought of Mike Nichols as a man 
who was being punished, by a species of critical Calvinism, because 
he had been a member of a satirical duo and had directed several 
frothy comedies on Broadway. The fact that he had directed them 
with immense .skill did not impress his detractors; to them, anyone 
who accepted those assignments was tainted. (A queer distinction 
between theater and film; bevies of film critics keep telling us that 
film material matters little, execution is all.) For myself, I tremen 
dously admired his work in, say, the New York production of The 
Knack, and I thought that his first film, Who's Afraid of Virginia 
Woolj?, was a largely successful struggle. It was a tough first assign 
ment, to have to transfer a distinguished play to the screen, but 
Nichols showed some cinematic intelligence plus his already cele 
brated skill with actors. In The Graduate he (rightly) opted for more 
malleable material and more of his self came through; the picture was 



CATCH-22 275 

marred by facetiousness and script weaknesses, but it had the same 
,superb skill with actors, a firmer grip of cinematic influences, and 
the dynamics of a film whose time has come. Catch-22 is, on balance, 
his poorest film to date. Basically, I think this is because he reverted 
to the strictures of Film One, taking on a distinguished work and 
again becoming essentially a transposes (I'm speaking solely from 
the viewpoint of a potentially superior director; the question of who 
ought to film works like Albee's play and Heller's novel is another 
subject.) And this time the original is very much harder to transpose. 

Throughout Catch-22 there are suggestions that Nichols felt 
trapped; there is a scent of panic. Possibly this accounts for Ms fail 
ure to fix the tone and for his uncharacteristic mistakes with actors. 
He seems to have realized too late the enormous difficulties of filming 
this book, of conveying its cosmos within a reasonable length, of 
making visible its understated lunacies, of dealing with its changed 
position in our culture. So he seems, figuratively, to have ad-libbed 
his way through the picture, sometimes hitting a good note, some 
times not, and often falling back, when insecure, on revue gimmickry 
to see him through. ( Arkin's Second City repertoire. An "in" reference 
to 2001 : with the first close-ups of Luciana's body, we hear the Rich 
ard Strauss music that began the Kubrick film.) Underneath the film 
one can almost hear a voice of strained noblesse oblige saying: "I 
am Mike Nichols, famed for social and political wit, and therefore 
I must do Catch-22:' Then, sotto voice: "Help!" The paradox is 
that a lesser director, less oppressed by perception of the difficulties, 
might have made a more satisfactory picture, without Nichols' high 
spots but also without his thrashing about 

"Character is destiny," Heraclitus said, freezing, 2,500 years 
ago. But what is Nichols 5 character? After enumerating the good 
and bad sequences in Catch-22 f one is left with a balance sheet rather 
than a man. His career has shown thus far that, at whatever level, he 
was born to direct. In the theater he has chosen to meet few chal 
lenges except those of craft. In films, where optimally the director is 
at least as much creator as interpreter, he has chosen, two out of 
three times, the dubious refuge of previously successful works; and 
this last time, the refuge became a sort of prison, within, which he is 
furtively and almost anonymously clever. What destiny has Nichols' 
character in store for him? More hot properties? More juggling? He 
says that he is now just ready to begin, to make his "statement." I 



276 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

hope so. I think that out of the often dazzling gifts a recognizable 
and valuable man might emerge. I hope that he is not destined for 
one more of those American careers in art, a man merely living by 
his talents which is about the easiest way that a talented man can 
live. 



How Young You Look 

Uune 27, 1970) 

STILL more Now films. They come so thick and fast no, thin and 
fast that there's no point in saying it's "time" for reassessment. 
Last month was one "time"; next month will be another. But a clutch 
of three recent films, cited below, are more interesting to discuss gen 
erally than to review. 

A prime mistake about the Now or Youth film is the assumption 
that youth-worship is new in this country. It has been around a long 
while. Slick magazines always had a heavy preference for stories about 
people under thirty, and so did radio shows. Leo McCarey's film 
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), a better tearjerker than many 
successful ones, was a flop because it dealt with old folks. Young 
people's lack of interest in their elders, as subjects of film or fiction, 
was only a trifle greater than older people's lack of interest in them 
selves. But the crucial difference older people used to control 
the youth image, and they shaped it to suit themselves: young folks 
in those films might stray or rebel, but sooner or later they saw the 
wisdom of their elders' ways. Until quite recently the guideline for 
youth in films, invisible but dominant, was: "When I was sixteen, 
my father was pretty dumb. Now that I'm twenty-one, he's a lot 
smarter. Amazing how much the old man learned in five years." It 
made everybody beam. 

Today, of course, the ending reads: "Now that I'm twenty-one, he's 
even dumber. He'll never learn." 

In late 1967, with The Graduate, the control of the youth image 
by the non-young was cracked. The crack came about, principally, 
because of an altered moral climate and the downward age shift in 



HOW YOUNG YOU LOOK 277 

the population. There were proportionately more young people than 
ever, and they were more grievously troubled than ever, and the first 
picture to acknowledge that truth with any degree of seriousness was 
a torrential success. The subsequent pictures that flooded through 
the crack, as I have pointed out many times, have varied widely in 
quality, and none of them has been first-rate. American film art has 
not zoomed to Olympus. But a large basic change has taken place: 
American films no longer need to use codes or disguises or patroniz 
ing transformations in order to treat contemporary subjects. At least 
there is now much more verisimilitude, even if so far there is 
not much serious art 

Now, after the recent Getting Straight, there are three more Youth 
films. The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (MGM) is about 
the sexual and drug adventures of a Columbia undergraduate. The 
Landlord (United Artists) is about a rich twenty-nine-year-old who 
buys a run-down house to remodel it for himself, discovers that it 
is in a black ghetto and has black tenants, and learns about life. (A 
faint echo here of Shaw's Widowers' Houses.) The Grasshopper (Na 
tional General) is about a twenty-year-old girl from British Colum 
bia, as eager for adventure as ever Joan Crawford was but much less 
inhibited, who becomes a ripple on life's stream in Las Vegas and 
Los Angeles. These three films share three sets of characteristics. 
First, they all have broad language, nudity, frank sexual references, 
casual use of drugs, and miscegenation without comment. (That is, 
the mixed couples never mention color as a possible barrier to bed.) 
Second, they all have several songs on the sound track reminiscent 
of Simon and Garfunkel. Third, they all use plentiful up-to-date 
camera and editing techniques. 

Verisimilitude is the key word. These films look and sound more 
like American life than American films used to. But their handling 
of materials that were recently taboo is so glib that we are never 
even faintly deluded about their sincerity. The sound-track songs 
are so obtrusive that these films almost seem like devices to promote 
record albums. And the cinematic display is piled on so mountain- 
ously that it dwarfs the already tiny content. For instance, there is a 
bed scene between the hero and his girl in The Landlord that is filled 
with gargantuan soft close-ups and lavish lyric lighting, utterly dis 
proportionate to the two characters or even to the event's importance 
to them. The new directors (all three of these men are fairly new) 



278 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

have film tastes shaped less by good film models than by the TV 
commercial, which packs as much cinematic display as possible into 
those sixty seconds. 

So, in less than three years., the Youth or Now or Mod film has 
solidified into a staple. The ostensibly "personal" film has become 
one more line of goods, once again "integrity" has become a prop 
of salesmanship, once again the Bitch Goddess feeds happily on her 
ostensible critics. Hollywood still a usable term even if now less 
accurate geographically, even if now staffed with lots of university 
graduates used to be cynical about lies; now it is cynical about 
truth. 

It might seem, then, that those of us who took some pleasure in the 
American film's widened compass have already been bilked. But, if 
I'm not exactly happy about developments, neither am I depressed. 
Or surprised. As between cynicisms, I prefer the new to the old, and 
since it is the nature of Hollywood to be cynical, the choice is pre 
cisely between cynicisms. When serious subjects became admissible 
seriously, did we expect them to be banned to all but serious film 
makers? 

More important, the territory of the American film has been wid 
ened. That truth may prove irreversible. Some verisimilitude, at least, 
of the American psyche is now a commonplace on the American 
screen. In a popular-based art like the film, the figurative shape of 
the art is pyramidal: the broader the base, the higher the possibilities. 
If there had been no superficially probing Clyde Fitch or Augustus 
Thomas, Eugene O'Neill's job would probably have been much 
harder. An unconstricted Swedish film culture produces, along with 
its many sexual and psychologizing bores, an Ingmar Bergman. The 
new American film territory at least makes serious American film art 
more possible. 

The former Youth image, controlled by the non-young, flattered 
the non-young. The new Youth image, controlled by the young, flat 
ters the young. Like so many changes brought about by the young 
these days, it is at least partially an improvement And like so many 
such changes, it is up to the young not to be pleased with partial suc 
cess or to overlook what has been left undone or badly done, or to 
be co-opted by patronization. Hollywood, still cynical, will dance to 
any tune if enough people call it. The young audience which is not 
only the majority audience now but on the whole the best film audi- 



HOW YOUNG YOU LOOK 279 

ence this country has ever had can call better ones. If only It will 
get over its childish (not young!) pleasure in having been recognized, 
if only it will demand the right to be angered, to be expanded. Most 
Youth films so far are "recognition" films: they get their effect by pro 
viding accurate correspondence with the world outside. But that is 
where the best films begin. 

Five years ago, in an essay called "The Film Generation," I called 
that generation "the most cheering circumstance in contemporary 
American art." This seems to me to be even more clearly the case 
now. I also hoped that the Film Generation would make some de 
mands. It has, and now it is hi control. Therefore it is now hi danger. 
The audience rules the film world, and rulers are always the target of 
flatterers. 



the necessary film 



When the first moving picture flashed onto a screen, the double life 
of all human beings became intensified. That double life consists, on 
the one hand, of actions and words and surfaces, and, on the other, of 
secrets and self-knowledges, self-ignorances, self-igaorings. That 
double life has been part of man's existence ever since art and religion 
were invented to make sure that he became aware of it. In the past 
century, religion has receded further and further as revealer of that 
double life, and art has taken over more and more of the function; 
and when the film art came along, it made that revelation of double- 
ness inescapable, more attractive. On the screen are facts; which 
at the same time are symbols; and they thus invoke doubleness at 
every moment, in every kind of picture. They stir up the conceal 
ments in our lives, both those concealments we like and those we 

281 



282 FIGURES OF LIGHT 

don't like, they shake our histories and our hopes into our conscious 
ness. Not completely, by any means. (Who could stand it?) Not 
more grandly or deeply than do other arts. But more quickly and 
surely. 

Think of this process as applying to every frame of film and it is 
clear that when we sit before a screen, we run risks unprecedented 
in human history. A poem may or may not touch us, a play or novel 
may never get near us. But films are inescapable. (In fact, with poor 
films, we often have the sensation of fighting our way out of them.) 
When two screen lovers kiss, in any film, that kiss has a minimum 
inescapability which is stronger than in other arts both as an action 
before us and as a metaphor of the kissingness in our lives. Each of 
us is pinned privately to that kiss in some degree of pleasure or pain 
or enlightenment. In period films or modern dramas, in musicals or 
political epics, in Westerns or farces, our beings are in some measure 
summoned up before our private vision. 

And I suggest that the fundamental way, conscious or not, in which 
we determine the quality of a film is by the degree to which the re- 
experiencing of ourselves coincides with our pride, our shames, our 
hopes, our honor. Finally, distinctions among films arise from the 
way they please or displease us with ourselves: not whether they 
please or displease but how. 

This is true, I believe, in every art today; it is not a cinema mo 
nopoly. But in film it is becoming more true more swiftly and deci 
sively because the film has a much smaller heritage of received esthetics 
to reassess; because the film is bound more closely to the future 
than other arts seem to be; and because the film confronts us so im 
mediately, so seductively, and so shockingly with at least some truth 
about what we have been doing wMi ourselves. 

To the degree that film exposes a viewer to this truth of himself, 
in Ms experience of the world or of fantasy, in Ms options of actions 
or of privacy, to the degree that he can thus accept a film as worthy of 
himself or better than himself, to that degree a film is necessary to 
Mm; and it is that necessity, I suggest, that ultimately sets its value. 

Throughout history, two factors have formed men's taste in any 
art knowledge of that art and knowledge of life and obviously 
this is still true, but the function of taste seems to be altering. As 
formalist esthetic canons seem fess aikl less tenable, standards in art 
and life become more and more congruent, and the function of taste 



THE NECESSARY FILM 283 

seems increasingly to be the selection and appraisal of the works 
that are most valuable most necessary to the individual's existence. 
So our means for evaluating films become more and more involved 
with our means for evaluating experience: not identical with our 
standards in life but certainly related and, one hopes, somewhat 
braver. 

Of course the whole process means that men feed on themselves, on 
thek own lives variously rearranged by art, as a source of values. 
But despite other prevalent beliefs in the past, we are coming to see 
that men have always been the source of thek own values. In the 
century in which this liberation, this responsibility, has become in 
creasingly apparent, the intellect of man has simultaneously provided 
a new art form, the film, that can make the most of it. 



index 



Page numbers referring to principal discussion of a filrn are set in italic. 



Abel, Lionel, 259 
Accattone, 58-61 
Adalen 31, 207-08 
Age d'Or, L', 144, 234 
Agee, James, xiii 
Ah! Qa Ira, 246 
Albee, Edward, 1, 3, 4, 78, 275 
Alda, Alan, 115 
Alexander Nevsky, 107 
Alice's Restaurant, 198-200, 202 
Allen, Dede, 19 
Allen, Jay Presson, 140 
All Fall Down, 178 
All These Women, 15, 268, 270 
Altman, Robert, 230 
Anderson, Lindsay, 134, 136 
Anderson Platoon, The, 57 
Andersson, Bibi, 18, 111, 126-27, 150, 
268 



Andrews, Julie, 76 
Antonio, Emile de, 218-19 
Antonioni, Michelangelo, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 

11, 12, 13, 23, 38, 39, 238, 239, 240, 

241-45, 253 
Antrobus, John, 204 
Apollinaire, Guillaume, 233 
Arkin, Alan, 273-74 
Annes, Roy, 82 
Arnold, Matthew, 263 
Aron, Raymond, 259 
Arthur, Jean, 76 
Ashcroft, Peggy, 167 
Ashes of Gramsci, The, 58 
Atkins, Eileen, 93 
Atlantic magazine, 218 
Auden, W. H., 5 
Auerbach, Erich, 252, 253 
Auteur theory, 96, 98, 255, 256 



285 



286 



INDEX 



Avventura, U, 7, 13, 239, 241, 270 
Axberg, Eddie, 131 

Babel, Isaac, 143 

Balaban, Robert, 273 

Balcony, The, 26 

Ball, Lucille, 76 

Ballad of Cable Hogue, The, 266-67 

Ballard, Lucien, 180, 183, 184 

Balsam, Martin, 273 

Bancroft, Anne, 40, 156 

Barefoot in the Park, 77 

Barrow, Clyde, 19 

Bazin, Andre, 256 

Beard, The, 49 

Beatles, the, 117-18, 151 

Beatty, Warren, 19 

Bed Sitting Room, The, 204-06, 274 

Bellamy, Ralph, 85 

Belle de Jour, 77-79, 231 

Bell for Adano, A, 236 

Bellocchio, Marco, 50, 51, 52, 86, 99 

Bellow, Saul, 6 

Belmondo, Jean-Paul, 139, 255, 256 

Benefit of the Doubt, The, 55 

Benjamin, 19 

Benjamin, Richard, 156, 157 

Bennett, Jill, 93, 106 

Benton, Robert, 20 

Bergen, Candice, 262, 263 

Berggren, Thommy, 35, 36 

Bergman, Ingmar, 13-15, 16, 17, 23, 
32, 38, 62, 63, 64, 65, 101, 111, 125, 
126, 127, 169, 267-68, 270, 278 

Berkeley, Busby, 179 

Berlin Film Festival, 132 

Bernstein, Elmer, 1 85 

Berrigan, Father Daniel, 218 

Bertolucci, Bernardo, 99 

Best Man, The, 237 

Bevilacqua, Umberto, 60 

Beyond the Law, 115-17 

Bezhin Meadow, 142-43 

Big Money, The, 166 

Billy Liar, 88 

Birds, The, 46, 99 

Birthday Party, The, 128-29 

Bjork, Anita, 207 

Bjornstrand, Gunnar, 125,126, 130 

Blackmer, Sidney, 84 

Blair, Betsy, 241 

Blake, Peter, 152 



Blake, Robert, 211 

Blankenship, Harold, 193 

Blier, Bernard, 48 

Bloom, Verna, 193 

Blow-Up, 5-13, 239, 241^42, 243, 244 

Bly, Robert, 100, 102 

Boccaccio '70, 197 

Body and Soul, 210, 214 

Bogart, Humphrey, 119 

Bogdanovich, Peter, 98-99 

Bond, Edward, 7, 239 

Bond, Ward, 181 

Bonnie and Clyde, 18-24, 36, 182, 198, 

199, 237 
Boom!, 174, 191 
Borgnine, Ernest, 181, 182 
Born, Max, 252 
Bose, Lucia, 252 
Bouquet, Michel, 255 
Bowen, Roger, 230 
Bozzufi, Marcel, 218 
Bradley, General Omar, 237 
Bragg, Melvyn, 165 
Brando, Marlon, 176, 180 
Brayne, William, 102 
Breathless, 69, 83, 139 
Brecht, Bertolt, 248 
Brennan, Paul, 152, 153 
Breton, Andre, 233-34 
Brice, Fanny, 115 
Bride Wore Black, The, 137, 138 
Brief Encounter* 141 
Broca, Philippe de, 99 
Broderick, James, 200 
Brook, Claudio, 145, 234 
Brook, Peter, 55, 56, 92, 113 
Brotherly Love, 256-58 
Browne, Roscoe Lee, 123 
Buchanan, Edgar, 181 
Bullitt, 118-20 
Bunuel, Luis, 77, 78, 144-45, 146, 201, 

232, 233, 234, 235 
Burke, Kenneth, 152 
Burns, Catherine, 177-78, 179 
Burns, Mark, 106 
Burroughs, William, 100 
Burton, Richard, 2, 76, 167, 191, 192, 

256 
Butch Cassidy and the S&ndance Kid, 

211,212 

Bute, Mary Ellen, 26-27, 28 
Buttons, Red, 221 



INDEX 



287 



Cagney, James, 76 

Cahiers du Cinema, 256 

Cain, James M., 220 

Cambern, Dorm, 188 

Camus, Albert, 28, 46, 47, 48 

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 

102, 105 
Candy, 134 

Cannes Film Festival, 101 
Capucine, 252 
Carabiniers, Les, 81-S3, 112 
Cardinal The, 99 
Caretaker, The, 129 
Carlin, Lynn, 121 
Carlisli, Olympia, 273 
Carlsen, Henning, 101 
Carmines, Al, 66 
Carol, Martine, 163 
Carriere, Jean-Claude, 78, 233 
Cassavetes, John, 85 
Castel, Lou, 87 
Cat Ballon, 184 
Catch-22, 271-76 

Catcher in the Rye, The (Salinger), 
272 

Chafed Elbows, 189 

Chamberlain, Richard, 88 

Chamber Plays (Strindberg), 62 

Chaplin, Charles, 83, 223, 224-26 

Charge of the Light Brigade, The t 106- 
09, 274 

Charrier, Jacques, 247, 249 

Chase, The, 18, 199 

Chesterton, G. K., 162 

Children of Paradise, 124 

China Is Near, 50-51, 52, 86 

Chinoise, La, 66-70, 139, 258, 265 

Christie, Julie, 88, 90 

Cipriani, Mario, 60 

Circus, The, 223-26 

Citizen Kane, 88, 97, 147, 161 

Citti, Franco, 60 

Clark, Susan, 212 

Clarke, Arthur C., 70, 71, 72, 75 

Cleaver, Eldridge, 264 

Clementi, Pierre, 79, 234 

Cleopatra, 2 

Closely Watched Trains, 29-30, 178, 
261 

Clouzot, Henri-Georges, 61 

Coggio, Roger, 147 

Cohen, Larry, 7 n., 46 



Comencini, Luigi, 51 

ComoUi, Jean-Louis, 241, 255 

Conchon, Georges, 46 

Contempt, 194 n. 

Contini, Alfio, 240 

Cool Hand Luke, 23, 28 

Cooper, Gary, 199 

Cooper, Giles, 78 

Coppola, Francis Ford, 202, 236 

Cortazar, Julio, 6, 7, 8, 239 

Corwin, Norman, 187 

Costa-Gavras, 215, 216, 217 

Gotten, Joseph, 88 

Coutard, Raoul, 67, 82, 147, 216, 217 

Crane, Hart, 226 

Crawford, Joan, 277 

Crawford, John, 266 

Crawford, Michael, 32 

Crowd Roars, The, 176 

Cul-de-Sac, 84, 85 

Culture and Anarchy (Arnold), 263 

Cuny, Alain, 234, 252 

Curtis, Tony, 76 

Dali, Salvador, 234 

Dalio, Marcel, 273 

D'Amico, Suso Cecchi, 46 

Damned, The, 245 

Dance of Death (Strindberg), 3 

Daniels, William, 40 

Darby, Kim, 185 

Darling, 88 

Dassin, Jules, 124, 125 

Davis, Bette, 219 

Davis, Sammy, Jr., 227 

Davison, Bruce, 177 

Dean, Isobel, 92 

Death of a Salesman (Miller), 48 

Dee, Ruby, 122, 123 

Defiant Ones, The, 212 

Degermark, Pia, 35, 36 

De La Haye, Ina, 167 

Delahaye, Michel, 247 

Deming, Barbara, 20 1 

Deneuve, Catherine, 79, 255 

Denner, Charles, 218 

Dennis, Sandy, 3 

De Palma, Brian, 133 

De Seta, Yittorio, 99 

De Sica, Yittorio, 30, 51 

Desny, Ivan, 163 

Detective, The, 118 



288 



INDEX 



Diary of a Chambermaid, The, 232 

Dietrich, Marlene, 76 

Dinesen, Isak, 146 

Divided Self, The (Laing), 13-14 

Dolce Vita, La, 6, 196, 197, 254 

Dr. Doolittle, 75 

Dr. Faust us, 191 

Dr. Strangelove, 71, 72 

Dr. Zhivago, 88 

Donati, Danilo, 252 

Donen, Stanley, 23, 191 

Donner, Clive, 129 

Donner, Jorn, 62 

Dos Passes, John, 166, 167 

Dostoevsky, Fyodor, 66 

Downey, Robert, 133, 189, 190 

Drabble, Margaret, 165 

Duel at Diablo, 18 

Duet for Cannibals, 208-Q9 

Dullea, Keir, 72 

Dunaway, Faye, 19 

Duncan, Isadora, 164 

Duvivier, Julien, 13 

Dyer, Charles, 190 

Earrings of Madame de . . . , 160, 161 

Easy Rider, 185-88, 194, 199, 202, 263 

Eclipse, 241 

Edelmann, Heinz, 117 

Edouart, Farciot, 85 

Edward, My Son, 167 

Eeny, Meeny, Miny Moe, 132 

8te, 252, 253, 254 

Eighteen Lessons on Industrial Society 

(Aron), 259 

Eisenstein, Serge, 13, 142-43, 158, 159 
Ekberg, Anita, 197 
EUmann, Richard, 26 n. 
Elvira Madigan, 34-36, 207 
Engels, Friedrich, 79 
Enzensberger, Hans Magnus, 164 
Ernst, Max, 234 
Evans, Maurice, 85 
Everything in the Garden, 78 
Executive Suite (Hawley), 235 
Exterminating Angel, The, 231 
Exton, Clive, 165 

Face of War, A, 79-81, 154, 219 
Faces, 120-21 

Fahrenheit 451, 88, 137, 148 
Falstaff, 4-5 



Far from the Madding Crowd, 88 
Farkas, Zoltan, 170, 249 
Farrow, Mia, 83, 84-85 
Fearless Vampire Killers, The, 85 
Fellini, Federico, 59, 197, 198, 250-54 
Fellini Satyricon, 250-54 
Figueroa, Gabriel, 145 
"Film Generation, The" (Kauffmann), 

279 

Film Johnnie, A, 225 
Fist in His Pocket, 51, 86-87 
Fitch, Clyde, 278 
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 252 
FitzGerald, Frances, 218 
Flea in Her Ear, A, 124 
Fokine, Michel, 165 
Fonda, Henry, 181, 185, 221 
Fonda, Jane, 221 

Fonda, Peter, 185-86, 187, 188, 199 
Force of Evil, 209, 210, 214-15 
Ford, John, 122, 181, 183 
For Love of Ivy, 93-95 
Forslund, Bengst, 130 
Forster, Robert, 193, 194-95 
400 Blows, The, 67, 137, 138 
Fox, James, 166 
Fraker, William, 85 
Frankenheimer, John, 22, 176, 178 
Frankeur, Paul, 234 
Fraser, John, 167 
Frechette, Mark, 241 
French Cinema Since 1946 (Armes), 

82 

Freud, Sigmund, 206, 230 
Fridell, Ake, 130 
Friedkin, William, 129 
Fuller, Samuel, 99 
Funny Face, 191 
Funny Girl, 114-15, 202 
Funny Thing Happened on the Way to 

the Forum, A, 30, 205 

Gabin, Jean, 76, 255 

Garbo, Greta, 76, 165 

Gardner, Fred, 239, 242 

Garfein, Jack, 202 

Garfield, Allen, 189 

Garfield, John, 176-77, 210, 214-15 

Garfunkel, Art, 41, 273, 277 

Garis, Robert, 8 

Geer, Marie de, 207 

Gelmis, Joseph, 43 



INDEX 



289 



General Line, The, 142 

Genet, Jean, 24 

Geret, Georges, 48 

Getting Straight, 261-63, 277 

Gherardi, Piero, 197, 252 

Gielgud, John, 106 

Gilman, Richard, 128 

Godard, Jean-Luc, 12, 22, 23, 38, 48, 

66-67, 68, 69, 81-83, 86, 109-12, 

139-40, 147, 156, 194 n., 249, 258- 

60, 264, 265, 266 
Goldoni, Carlo, 50 
Gold Rush, The, 224 
Goldsmith, Jerry, 237 
Goldstone, James, 175, 176-77 
Gone with the Wind, 45, 271 
Goodbye, Columbus, 154-57, 202, 263 
Gordon, Ruth, 84 
Gospel According to St. Matthew, The, 

58, 59, 60, 61 
Gould, Elliott, 230, 262 
Graduate, The, 24, 26, 36-46, 156, 

172, 201, 212, 262, 274, 276 
Grand Hotel, 165 
Grand Illusion, 271, 273 
Grand Prix, 176 
Grant, Gary, 76 
Grapes of Wrath, The, 185 
Grasshopper, The, 277 
Grass Is Greener, The, 191 
Greatest Story Ever Told, The, 64 
Great Gatsby, The, 252 
Green, Felix, 57 
Green, Walon, 180 
Green Berets, 55, 235 
Greetings, 133-34, 189, 202 
Grido, 11, 241, 244 
Grodin, Chuck, 273 
Grove Press, 147, 148 
Grusin, Dave, 211 
Guerra, Tonino, 7, 238, 239 
Guerre Est Finie, La, 188 
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, 94, 

262 

Guffey, Burnett, 19 
Guiomar, Julien, 235 
Guthrie, Arlo, 198, 199-200 

Haase, John, 87 
Hackman, Gene, 19 
Hagen, Uta, 3 
Haines, Fred, 25 



Hakim, Robert and Raymond, 165 
Halberstam, David, 218 
Hall, Conrad, 211 
Halle, Louis L, 73 
Halprin, Daria, 241 
Hardwick, Paul, 114 
Harris, Richard, 241 
Harrison, Gilbert, xiv 
Harrison, Rex, 191-92 
Hataril, 99 

Hathaway, Henry, 184, 185 
Hawaii, 64 

Hawks, Howard, 97, 99, 176 
Hawks and the Sparrows, The, 58, 61 
Hawley, Cameron, 235 
Hayes, Alfred, 52 
Hedren, Tippi, 46 
Heise, Russell, 102 
Heller, Joseph, 271, 272, 274, 275 
Hemingway, Ernest, 52 
Hemmings, David, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 
106 

Henry, Buck, 36-37, 134, 273 

Henry IV (Shakespeare), 5 

Henry V (Shakespeare), 5 

Hepburn, Audrey, 76 

Hepburn, Katharine, 76 

Heraclitus, 275 

Here's Your Life, 130-32, 178, 179 

Herlihy, James Leo, 170, 171, 173 

Herndon, Venable, 198 

Hersey, John, 236 

Hershey, Barbara, 177, 178, 179 

Herzog, 6 

Heston, Charlton, 180, 181 

He Who Must Die, 124 

Heywood, Pat, 114 

Hill, Arthur, 88 

Hill, Marianna, 193 

Hill, The, 33 

Hilsman, Roger, 218 

Hirsch, Charles, 133 

Hirschfeld, Gerald, 156 

Hitchcock, Alfred, 40, 46, 99 

Hoffman, Dustin, 36, 40, 43, 172-73 

Holden, William, 181, 182 

Hombre t 6, 176 

Homecoming, The, 9, 129 

Honey Pot, The, 192 

Hooker, Richard, 230 

Hopper, Dennis, 186, 188 

Hordern, Michael, 32, 205, 206 



290 



INDEX 



Hot Millions, 163, 202 

Houdini, Harry, 1 

Hour of the Wolf, 62-65, 101, 127, 

268, 270 

Howard, Trevor, 106, 141 
How I Won the War, 30-34, 68, 89, 

128, 204, 206, 271, 274 
How to Steal a Million* 6 
Hrabal, Bohumfl, 29 
Hughes, Barnard, 173 
Hughes, Richard, 181 
Hunger, 100-02 
Hunter, Evan, 178 
Hussey, Olivia, 113 
Huston, John, 13 
Huston, Walter, 183 

I Am a Fugitive from a Cham Gang, 

2$ 

7 Am Curious (Blue}, 147 ' 149, 150 
I Am Curious (Yellow) f 147-50 
//..., 134-37 
Immortai Story, The, 146-47 
Inadmissible Evidence* 9193 
Incident, The, 156 
In Cold Blood, III 
Informer, The, 122, 123 
Inside North Vietnam, 57 
International Film Guide 1968, 131 
In the Heat of the Night, 22, 192 
In the Year of the Pig, 218-19 
Intimate Lighting, 222-23, 261 

Jackson, Glenda, 56 

Jade, Claude, 138 

Jagger, Mick, 264 

James, Henry, 8 

Jancso, Miklos, 158-59, 168, 169, 170, 

246, 247-49 
Jeanson, Francis, 67 
Jensen, Cleo, 35 
Jessua, Alain, 22, 99 
Jewison, Norman, 22 
Jires, Jaromil, 260-61 
Joanna, 134 
Johnson, Arnold, 189 
Johnson, Ben, 181 
Johnson, Celia, 141, 142 
Johnson, Eyvind, 130 
Johnson, Jack, 211 
Johnson, Lyndon B., 235 
Johnston, Denis, 27 
Joke, The, 260-61 



Jones, Eugene S., 80, 219 
Jones, LeRoi, 264 
Josephson, Erland, 268, 270 
Journey of the Fifth Horse, 40, 17S 
Jour Se Leve, Le, 124 
Joyce, James, 25, 27 
Jules and Jim, 54, 137 
Juliet of the Spirits, 252 

Kafka, Franz, 272 

Kaplan, Hyman, 230 

Karamazov, Ivan, 110 

Karina, Anna, 48, 139 

Karloff, Boris, 96-99 

Kaufman, Robert, 261 

Kayama, Yuzo, 132 

Kaye, Simon, 107 

Kazin, Alfred, 25 

Kean, Mr. and Mrs. Charles, 112 

Keeler, Ruby, 199 

KeUey, Martin J., 27 

Kende, Janos, 249 

Kennaway, James, 257 

Kennedy, Merna, 224, 225 

Kermode, Frank, 140 

Kershner, Irvin, 22 

Kessel, Joseph, 78 

Kid, The, 223 

Kind of Loving, A, 171-72 

King, Allan, 102, 103, 104, 105, 226, 

227-29 

Kinnear, Roy, 32-33 
Kipling, Rudyard, 134 
Klugman, Jack, 118, 157 
Knack, The, 1, 30, 31, 41, 89, 205, 274 
Knife in the Water, 84, 85 
Knight, Shirley, 89 
Koenekamp, Fred, 237 
Kolb, Ken, 261 
Komeda, Christopher, 85, 102 
Kovacs, Laszlo, 186, 263 
Krafft-Ebing, Richard von, 79 
Kramer, Stanley, 25, 94, 212 
Kresadlova, Vera, 261 
Kubrick, Stanley, 72, 73, 74, 75 r 190 
Kundera, Milan, 260 
Kurant, Willy, 147 
Kurosawa, Akira, 1, 39, 132, 150, 158, 

182, 248 

Lacouture, Jean, 218 

Lady from Shanghai, The, 225 

Laing, R. D., 13-14, 17 



INDEX 



291 



Lambrakis, Gregorios, 215 
Landlord, The, 277 
Lang, Fritz, 124 
Lardner, Ring, Jr., 230 
Last Summer, 177-79, 202 
Lawrence of Arabia, 31, 106 
Lawson, John Howard, 214 
Lawton, Harry, 210 
Lean, David, 13, 106 
Learning Tree, The, 202, 203 
Leaud, Jean-Pierre, 67, 138 
LeCarre, John, 216 
Left-Handed Gun, The, IS 
Lehman, Ernest, 1, 3 
Leiterman, Richard, 227 
Lemmon, Jack, 40, 76-77 
Lennon, John, 33 
Leopard, The, 47, 197 
Lester, Richard, 1, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 
41, 68, 87, 88, 89, 90, 99, 117, 128, 
193, 203, 205, 206, 249 
Letter from an Unknown Woman, 160, 
161 

Levin, Ira, 84 

Levine, Joseph E., 151 

Lilies of the Field, 94 

Lincoln, Abbey, 94, 95 

Lindblom, Gunnel, 101 

Little Caesar, 23 

Loach, Ken, 52 

Lola Monies, 160-64, 165 

Lolita, 71 

Lonely Are the Brave, 212 

Look Back in Anger, 92 

Loren, Sophia, 76 

Love Affair, 52-55 

Loves of a Blonde, 30 

Loves of Isadora, The, 164-68 

Loving Couples, 65 

Lowe, Arthur, 205 

Lumet, Sidney, 22, 33 

Lumiere, Louis, 82, 151 

Luv f 273 

Maar, Gyula, 169 
Macbeth, 4 

Macdonald, Dwight, 143, 177 
MacDonald, Jeanette, 166 
MacDonald, J. Farrell, 181 
MacGowran, Jack, 33 
MacGraw, Ali, 157 
MacLaine, Shirley, 76 
Magee, Patrick, 190 



Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, 

277 

Magician, The t 62, 268 
Mailer, Norman, 49-50, 115-16 
Major Barbara, 192 
Major Dundee, 180, 266 
Makavejev, Dusan, 52, 53, 54, 55 
Make Way for Tomorrow, 276 
Maiden, Karl, 237 
Malle, Louis, 196 
Mann, Daniel, 95 
Manning, Mary, 27 

Man with a Movie Camera, The> 151 
March, Fredric, 76 
Marcus, Lawrence B., 87 
Marked Woman, 219 
Marley, John, 121 
Marlon Brando, 151 
Marnie, 46 

Married Couple, A, 226-29 
Married Woman, A, 12, 156 
Marston, John, 91 
Martin, Nan, 157 
Marvin, Lee, 184 
Masculine Feminine, 67, 147 
Mase, Marino, 87 
M*A*S*H, 229-31, 263, 272 

Mason, Jackie, 114 

Mastroianni, Marcello, 48 

Mastroianni, Ruggero, 197 

Matras, Christian, 232 

Matthau, Walter, 76-77 

Mayerling, 36 

Mayfield, Julian, 122, 123 

Maysles, Albert and David, 151, 152, 
153, 228 

McCarey, Leo, 276 

McCarthy, Frank, 235, 236 

McCarthy, Joseph R., 218 

McClure, Michael, 49 

McCoy, Horace, 219, 220, 222 

McEnery, John, 114 

McGiver, John, 173 

McLaglen, Victor, 123 

McLuhan, Marshall, 192, 195 

McQueen, Steve, 119, 120 

Medium Cool, 192-96, 202 

Melies, Georges, 151 

Menzel, Jiri, 29, 33, 34, 178 

Meyers, Sidney, 226 

Mickey One, 18, 199 

Midnight Cowboy, 24, 170-74, 202 

Mifune, TToshiro, 132 



292 



INDEX 



Miles, Sarah, 1 1 
Miles, Sylvia, 173 
Milky Way, The, 231-35 
Millar, Gavin, 99 
Milligan, Spike, 204, 206 
Mimesis (Auerbach), 253 
Miracle Worker, The, 18 
Mississippi Mermaid, 255-56 
Miss Julie, 207 
Mr. Arkadin, 147 
Mitchell, Joni, 199 
Modern Times, 224 
Mollo, John, 107 
Mondrian, Piet, 23 
Monicelli, Mario, 51, 169, 208 
Montague, Lee, 33 
Montand, Yves, 218 
Moravia, Alberto, 252, 253 
Moreau, Jeanne, 5, 147 
Morris, William, 150 
Morrison, Norman, 55 
Morton, Thruston, 218 
Moseley, Peter, 102 
Mostel, Zero, 26 
Mulligan, Robert, 22 
Mumford, Lewis, 130 
Muni, Paul, 28 
Munzar, Ludek, 261 
Mus, Paul, 218 
My Fair Lady, 192 
My Sister, My Love, 18 

Nazarin, 145,231 

Neame, Ronald, 141 

Neckar, Vaclav, 29 

Nesbitt, Cathleen, 191 

New American Review, xiv 

Newhart, Bob, 273 

New Hungarian Quarterly, 169 

Newman, David, 20 

Newman, Paul, 28, 176, 194 

New Republic, The, xiii, xiv, 44, 73, 

128 

New York Review of Books, 252 
New York Times, The, xiii-xiv 
Nichols, Dandy, 128 
Nichols, Dudley, 123 
Nichols, Mike, 1-2, 3, 36, 38-40, 41, 

42, 43-44, 45, 46, 99, 172, 201, 273, 

274, 275 

Nicholson, Jack, 186 
Night Games, 65 



Night Must Fall, 166 
Nixon, Richard M., 58 
Noel, Magali, 252 
North, Edmund H., 236 
Nothing But a Man, 94 
Notorious Gentleman, The, 192 
No Way to Treat a Lady, 118 
Nykvist, Sven, 17, 125, 127, 268, 271 
Nyman, Lena, 149 

O'Brien, Edmond, 181, 183 

Odd Couple, The, 75-77 

Odets, Clifford, 214 

O'Flaherty, Liam, 122 

Olivier, Laurence, 192 

Olmi, Ermanno, 22, 99, 178 

One-Eyed Jacks, 180 

O'Neill, Eugene, 278 

One Potato, Two Potato, 156 

Ophuls, Max, 160, 161, 163, 164, 187 

Organizer, The, 169, 208 

Orwell, George, 134 

Osborne, John, 91, 92, 93 

Oscarsson, Per, 100, 101, 102, 130, 132 

O'Shea, Milo, 26, 113-14 

Othello, 4 

OToole, Peter, 76, 257-58 

Pacifici, Sergio, 58-59 

Page, Anthony, 92, 93 

Palme, Ulf, 130 

Papp, Joseph, 237 

Parker, Bonnie, 19 

Parks, Gordon, 202 

Parsons, Estelle, 19-20 

Partisan Review, 109, 143, 164 

Party Girl, 99 

Pasolini, Pier Paolo, 47, 58-59, 60-61 

Passages from James Joyce's Finnegans 

Wake, 26-28 
Passer, Ivan, 222 
Passion of Anna, The, 267-71 
Pasut, Franca, 60 
Patch of Blue, A, 94 
Paths of Glory, 71 
Pattison, Roy, 107 
Patton, 235-38 
Pearson, Beatrice, 215 
Peck, Robert, 80 
Peckinpah, Sam, 180, 181, 182-83, 

184, 266, 267 
Peerce, Larry, 156-57, 263 



INDEX 



293 



Pendleton, Austin, 273 

Penn, Arthur, 18, 19, 20, 22, 24, 198- 

99, 200, 202 
Penney, Edmund, 266 
Peploe, Clare, 239 
Perkins, Anthony, 273 
Perry, Eleanor, 178 
Perry, Frank, 178, 179 
Persona, 13-18, 32, 62, 63, 111, 150, 

268, 270 

Persson, Jorgen, 35 
Peters, J. Baxter, 80 
Petit Soldat, Le, 139 
Petulia, 87-91 
Pflug, Jo Ann, 230 
Phaedra, 124 

Philadelphia Story, The, 97 
Picasso, Pablo, 54, 66 
Piccoli, Michel, 77, 79, 234 
Pickford, Mary, 76 
Pierrot le Fou, 138-40, 259 
Pinter, Harold, 9, 128-29, 214 
Pitagora, Paola, 87 
Planet of the Apes, 71, 237 
Platt, Polly, 97 
Playfair, Giles, 113 
Plaza Suite, 77 
Plimpton, George, 115 
Podhoretz, Norman, 49, 116 
Point of Order, 218 
Poitier, Sidney, 93, 94, 95 
Polanski, Roman, 84, 85, 137 
Pollack, Sydney, 221 
Pollard, Michael J., 20 
Polonsky, Abraham, 209-10, 213, 214, 

215 

Poor Cow, 52 
Porcasi, Paul, 199 
Portis, Charles, 184, 185 
Possessed, The, 66 
Potter, Martin, 251-52 
Preminger, Otto, 99 
Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The, 140- 

142 

Public Enemy, The, 23 
Putney Swope, 189-90, 202 

Quadflieg, Will, 163 
Quai des Brumes, 124 
Quality: Its Image in the Arts (Kronen- 
berger, ed.),xiv 



Queen, The, 154 
Quinn, Pat, 200 

Rabal, Francisco, 79 
Rain People, The, 202 
Rashomon, 248 

Ray, Nicholas, 99 
Reason Why, The, 106 
Red and the White, The, 158-59, 168, 
169, 170, 246, 249 

Red Beard, 132-33 

Red Desert, 9, 10, 241, 244 

Redford, Robert, 211-12 

Redgrave, Vanessa, 12-13, 106, 107, 
126, 167 

Red Line 7000, 176 

Reflections in a Golden Eye, 176 

Reilly, Jane, 27 

Reisz, Karel, 164, 165, 166 

Renoir, Jean, 13, 105, 255 

Repulsion, 84, 85 

Resnais, Alain, 188 

Ribman, Ronald, 40 

Richardson, Ralph, 141, 205 

Richardson, Tony, 107, 108, 191 

Richie, Donald, 44 

Ride the High Country, 180, 183, 266 

Robards, Jason, 166-67, 267 

Roberts, Jono, 80, 81 

Robles, Emmanuel, 46 

Rodman, Howard, 175 

Roeg, Nicholas, 88 

Roeves, Maurice, 26 

Rolling Stones, 264 

Romagnoli, Mario, 252 

Roman Holiday, 1 14 

Romeo and Juliet, 112-14 

Ronde,La, 160, 161 

Rosemary's Baby, 83-85, 120, 137 

Rosenberg, Stuart, 22, 23 

Rosenblum, Ralph, 156 

Rosi, Francesco, 23-24 

Ross, Katharine, 40, 212, 215 

Rossen, Robert, 210 

Rota, Nino, 197 

Roth, Philip, 154, 155, 156, 157 

Rotunno, Giuseppe, 46, 197, 252 

Round Up, The, 168-70 

Rowlands, Gena, 121 

Running Away from Myself (Dem- 
ing), 201 

Rush, Richard, 263 



294 



INDEX 



Ryan, Patrick, 31 
Ryan, Robert, 181, 183 

Sackler, Howard, 211 

Sade, Marquis de, 78 

St. Jacques, Raymond, 123 

Saint Laurent, Yves, 79 

Saks, Gene, 77 

Salesman, 150-54, 228, 229 

Salisbury, Harrison, 218 

Salomon, Erich, 217 

Salvatore Giuliano, 23 

Salvatori, Renato, 218 

Sandra, 47 

Sargent, Christopher, 80 

Sarrazin, Michael, 221 

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, 

166 

Saturday Review, 7 n., 46 
Satyricon, 250-54 
Schaffner, Franklin J., 235, 236 
Schildt, Peter, 207 
Schlesinger, John, 88, 170, 171-72, 

173, 174 

Schoendorffer, Pierre, 57 
School for Scandal, The, 205 
Scofield, Paul, 190 
Scott, George C, 88-89, 237 
Scott, Pippa, 89 
Seberg, Jean, 139 
Seeberg, Peter, 101 
See You at Mao, 264-66 
Segal, George, 3, 118 
Semeniako, Michel, 67 
Semprun, Jorge, 215 
"Sentinel, The" (Clarke), 70 
Seton, Marie, 143 

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 191 
Seyrig, Delphine, 138, 235 
Shadows, 120 

Shakespeare, William, 5, 113 
Shame, 1 25-28, 267, 268 
Shapiro, Melvin, 211 
Sharif, Omar, 114 
Shaw, Robert, 128 
Sheen, Martin, 273 
Shepard, Sam, 239, 242 
Sherwin, David, 135, 136 
Shock Corridor, 99 
Shoot the Piano Player, 137, 255-56 
Shop on Main Street, The, 30 
Shoulder Arms, 83 



Showman, 151 

Sign of the Virgin, 217 

Silence, The, 15, 62 

Silence and Cry, 246 

Silvera, Frank, 123 

Simon, Neil, 76, 77, 277 

Simon, Paul, 41 

Simon of the Desert, 144-46, 231, 233 

Singer, I. B., 100 

Sjoblom, Ulla, 130 

Sjoman, Vilgot, 126, 147, 148-49, 150, 

270 

Sleeping Car Murders, The, 215 
Smight, Jack, 256 
Smiles of a Summer Night, 127 
Smith, David, 90 
Smith, John Victor, 33 
Smith, Maggie, 142 
Soft Skin, The, 137 
Somlo, Tamas, 159, 168 
Somr, Josef, 261 
Sons and Lovers, 106 
Sontag, Susan, 109, 110, 111, 112, 

208-09, 265 
Sorel, Jean, 77 
Sound of Music, The, 45 
Sound of Trumpets, The, 178 
Southern, Terry, 186, 187 
Spark, Muriel, 140, 141, 142 
Spartacus, 71 

Spirits of the Dead, 196-98, 250 
Spy Who Came In From the Cold, 2 
Staircase, 190-92, 256 
Stamp, Terence, 196 
Star Spangled Girl, 157 
Stephens, Robert, 114, 142 
Sternberg, Josef von, 180 
Stevens, George, 44 
Stevens, Stella, 267 
Stolen Kisses, 137-38 
Stone, N. B., Jr., 183 
Stranger, The, 46-48 
Streisand, Barbra, 114, 115 
Strick, Joseph, 25, 26, 27, 220 
Strindberg, August, 3, 62 
Suddenly, Last Summer, 2 
Sullivan, Barry, 212 
Sutherland, Donald, 230 
Swann, Robert, 136 
Swedenborg, Emanuel, 195 
Sydow, Max von, 64, 125, 126, 268 
Sympathy for the Devil, 264-65 



INDEX 



295 



Tafler, Sydney, 129 

Taft, William Howard, 210, 211 

"Take a Deep Breath" (Clarke), 72 

Taming of the Shrew, The, 191 

Targets, 96-99 

Taylor, Elizabeth, 2-3 

Tchenko, Ivan, 167 

Technique of Film Editing, The 

(Reisz), 166 
Tell Me Lies, 55-58 
Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, 209-15 
Temptation of Dr. Antonio, The, 197 
10:30 P.M. Summer, 124 
Teorema, 61, 174 
Terrriinus, 173 
Terzieff, Laurent, 234 
Teshigahara, Hiroshi, 99 
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, 219- 

22 

This Sporting Ufe, 134 
Thomas, Augustus, 278 
Thomas, Richard, 177 
Thompson, J. Lee, 257 
Thoreau, Henry David, 200 
Three Sisters, The, 141 
Through a Glass Darkly, 14, 15, 62, 63 
Tidelius, Kerstin, 207 
Tisse, Edward, 143 
Titicut Follies, 105 
Toby Dammit, 196-98, 250, 251 
Tom Jones, 75, 108 
Topaz, 46 
Topkapi, 124 
Tosi, Piero, 197 
To Sir with Love, 94 
Tracy, Spencer, 76 
Trauner, Alexandre, 124 
Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 183 
Trial, The, 5 
Trilling, Lionel, 19 
Trintignant, Jean-Louis, 218 
Troell,Jan, 130, 131,132 
True Grit, 183-85, 186 
Truffaut, Francois, 67, 88, 137, 138, 

140, 156, 178, 179, 255, 256 
Tucker's People (Wolfert), 210 
Tushingham, Rita, 205 
Two for the Road, 23, 40 
Two or Three Things I Know about 

Her, 258-60 

2001: A Space Odyssey, 70-75 
Two Women, 30 



Tyler, Parker, 46 
Tynan, Kenneth, 128-29 

Ullmann, liv, 18, 62, 64-65, 125, 126, 

268 

Ulysses, 25-26 
Un Chien Andalou, 234 
Up the Down Staircase, 22 
Up Tight, 122-25 
US, 55, 57 
Ustinov, Peter, 163 

Vaccaro, Brenda, 173 

Vadim, Roger, 196 

Valentino, Rudolph, 76 

Vanel, Charles, 61 

Van Runkle, Theadora, 19 

Variety, 45 

Variety Lights, 250 

Vassilikos, Vassili, 215 

Vertov, Dziga, 151 

Viet Rock, 57 

View from the Bridge, 129 

Vigo, Jean, 136 

Vinti, I, 242 

Virgin Spring, The, 64 

Viridiana, 232 

Visconti, Luchino, 46, 47, 48, 245 

Vitelloni, I, 59, 250, 254 

Vlady, Marina, 249, 260 

Voight, Jon, 172, 273 

Wages of Fear, The, 61 

Wagonmaster, 181, 183 

Waiting for Godot, 8 

Walbrook, Anton, 163 

W olden (Thoreau), 200 

Walker, David, 107 

Wallis, Hal, 184, 185 

Wangler, Christian, 227 

War and Peace, 107 

Warner, David, 266 

Warrendale, 102-05, 154, 226, 229 

Warshow, Robert, xiii 

Washbourne, Mona, 205 

Watkin, David, 107, 205 

Watson, David, 274 

Wayne, John, 55, 183-84, 185 

Webb, Charles, 36, 42, 44 

Weekend, 109-12, 139, 140, 265 

Welch, Raquel, 263 



296 



INDEX 



Welles, Orson, 4-5, 146, 147, 161, 205, 

225, 273 

Werner, Oskar, 163 
Wexler, Haskell, 22, 192, 193, 194, 

195-96, 212 
Whafs Happening?, 151 
Whitehead, Peter, 55 
White Sheik, The, 250 
Whiting, Leonard, 113 
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1-4, 

38, 39, 274 
Who's That Knocking at My Door?, 

202 

Wiazemsky, Anne, 67, 204 
Widerberg, Bo, 34-35, 36, 207 
Widmark, Richard, 118 
Wild Bunch, The, 179-83, 184, 202, 

237, 266, 267 
Wild 90, 49-50 
Williamson, Nicol, 92 
Willingham, Calder, 36 
Wilson, Edmund, 220 
Wilson, Elizabeth, 40 
Wilson, Georges, 48 
Winning, 174-77, 194 



Winter Light, 15, 127 

Winter Wind, 246-49 

Wolfert, Ira, 210 

Wood, Charles, 30-31, 107 

Woodham-Smith, Cecil, 106 

Woodward, Joanne, 176 

Woolrich, Cornell, 255 

World on Film, A (Kauffmann), xiii, 

xiv 
Wyler, William, 114 

Yates, Peter, 120 
Yellow Submarine, 117-18 
York, Michael, 114 
York, Susannah, 221, 257 
Young, Gig, 221-22 

Z, 215-18 

Zabriskie Point, 238-45, 253 
Zapponi, Bernardino, 251 
Zavattini, Cesare, 30 
Zeffirelli, Franco, 112-13 
Zero de Conduits, 136 
Zetterling, Mai, 65 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR 



Stanley Kauffmann has been writing film criticism for 
The New Republic since 1958 and is at present the film 
and drama critic. He has also served as drama critic for 
The New York Times. 

Mr. Kauffmann, a native of New York, is a graduate 
of New York University. 



71 72 73 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 



(continued from front flap) 

Stanley KauffmanrVs reviews of 
these films, mostly written for The 
New Republic, are an important 
element in the contemporary 
history of motion pictures. Rigor 
ously independent in his judg 
ments, Mr. Kauffmann gives us 
reviews that are not only percep 
tive and knowledgeable but im 
mensely readable as well. 

Some comments on Stanley 

Kauffmann 's first collection 

of reviews 

A WORLD ON FILM 

"1 wonder if any other movie critic 
now living cquld assemble such a 
book? I have not come across any 
thing of the kind since James 
Agee. ' ' -Eric Bentley (1 966) 

"[Kauffmann] is the only reviewer 
whose work holds my attention in 
book form, and I've gone through 
his World on Film from review to 
review of those works I think of as 
the litmus tests of seriousness, 
actually stopping to think, actually 
finding my own thoughts on the 
subject modified by what is said 
there even now. There is no other 
reviewer writing of whom the 
same seems to me to be true." 

Stephen Koch in the 
Saturday Review (1970) 

Jacket design by Hal Siegel 



CD 



ty 

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